222m on dual CCR
I’m approaching 100m. Finally it’s starting to feel comfortably cold. The above water was too warm. I descend faster and faster, rhythmically adding diluent to front counterlungs and air to dry suit. Rear counterlungs are automatically maintained by ADV.

My Blue Hole wall reef admiration is abruptly stopped by the DIVA’s blinking green LED. Hmmmm… it should be RED! I wonder if by mistake I did press oxygen manual addition valve. It’s textbook mistake, unlikely but possible. Just in case, I nose exhale and add diluent to empty counterlungs. All okay but after few seconds DIVA blinks again green, sign that PPO2 is above 1.0. And that should not happen!

I’m passively flashing loop twice again, slowing down descent and franticly working in my head all possible scenarios what could go wrong. Diluent was checked before just before dive – it was a correct mix. Gas hoses are color-coded and one glance over tells me: they are connected properly. Hmmmm…What’s WRONG!

Text by Krzysztof Starnawski
Photography by Irena Stangierska
Edited by Maja Wolski
Did I press the
oxygen manual
addition valve,
a textbook mistake?
Enough! I decide to abort descent using dry suit and wing. DIVA shows 1.5!!! I’m stopping on 155m, time for last resort action: dynamic loop flush and manually shut down oxygen. There must be an uncontrolled oxygen leak to the loop.

I practiced this many times, so I calmly execute procedure and I can hear the trimix escaping from the over-pressure exhaust valve. Three seconds pass and the sound is changing. What the heck? I’m pressing valve harder but result is opposite, and the sound is diminishing to complete silence.

WTF!!! Instantly I broke out in a cold sweat.

I’m starting to grasp the gravity of my situation. The diluent has ENDED!!! “How this is possible? How could I allow this to happen?” Thoughts about my stupidity were stopped by DIVA vibrations and interchangeably flashing red and green LED. A glance onto my handset and confirmation of my worst fear: loop PPO2 is 2.2 and I can see it growing.

No time looking for reason of my main CCR problem. I need to take an action as long as I’m still alive. I swap rebreathes, swim to the wall and stay still.

I’m at 155m, with only one working CCR and NO diluent! I still can’t believe I allowed this to happen.

“Think, think, and think !!!”

You covered this many times during CCR courses; you should know what to do first. The most important is to do is cool down and prevent an incoming panic attack. Only with a cool head can get you out from this shit. I’m beginning to tell myself, “you are good diver, with many hours of drills and for sure it’s not your time yet.” At same time I’m starting to breathe deeper and slower, focus my site on the details and stopping any unnecessary movement.

After a minute my breathing is steady, my brain is functioning in regular way and I’m starting to think constructively. Frankly, the diluent is not necessary for ascent and deco as long as second CCR is functioning correctly without any O2 leaks.

There was only one important thing left: no room for any mistake. The manual O2 dosing must be precise and the ascent perfect since I don’t have any gas to make corrections! I still have a chance to save my ass. I keep contact with the wall and slowly go up. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty meters, and all is working well, I keep low PPO2. This will extend deco but keep higher safety margin in case of any mistakes. Ufff… it may work, “Just pay attention Starnawski…,” I repeat to myself. On 100m, as planned, I’m meeting Mark, my support diver. Luckily for me, he is dependable as always. A diluent tank is transferred (an oxygen tank not necessary this time). Just as planned, every support team member has two extra tanks: a diluent and an O2, with quick connectors to plug into my loop. I’m really at ease now.

Another four hours and I’m surfacing.

I sat down in quiet corner of small restaurant and slowly sip beer. After few minutes I debriefed my team on what happened during dive. After that, I say only to myself, “You are such a fool, you are such a lucky moron.”

Egypt 2010 – test dives.

The Egypt expedition was frankly, the first stepping-stone in my dual rebreather adventure. It marked the end of 8 months’ worth of work and several hours’ of shallow water tests in polish waters. At the end of which all the functions were working correctly, so I decided it was time for the real challenge - deep-water tests. If those tests are successful, I’ll have in my hands a new tool to truly explore underwater caves.

What a rebreather is needs no explanation. A Dual CCR is like use of twinset, if one tank or regulator fails I’m able to switch to second and safely finish dive, the same with rebreathes. Simple, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, that’s where “simple” ends. Placement of two units on the diver - that’s only the first real problem. After that, learning how to operate two units simultaneously is not an easy thing either. Not mentioning switching from one unit to another. The emergency procedure development and constant drills. All those things, starting from scratch since there is nobody to ask for guidance.

All this took 8 months of my life and countless training hours. Deep belief in the correctness of my idea allowed me to endure all beginning failures. During this period I had the help and the cooperation from circle of my friends. Without them all this effort will be wasted.

Tomek Abierek – At night would work on my electronics and fixed anything what was damaged during tests.

Bartek Grynda (Gralmarine) – Took on himself to waterproof all cables so they would not fail even on 300m. It was really tedious and precise work on which faith of my rebreathes and my life depended.

Ryszard Paluszkiewicz (Eques) – As always prepared my dry suit, designing a new wing and counterlungs. He has been supporting my diving endeavors for many years and I can always count on him.

Bretislav Vaisar (IQ Sub) From Czech Republic – with patience, machining all necessary elements I ordered from him to make my design work.

And of course, Leszek Czarnecki who helped me to organize my project and lend his custom Hammerhead so I can make dual unit with mine.
Thanks my friends; your help and my inherited stubbornness allowed me withstand setbacks, assemble, and perform the first deep-water test of my “brainchild” in Egypt.

It was simple plan.

Week one: trainings dives up to 100m. Assemble and train coherent support team, development and drills of emergency procedures. In some free time, kite surfing for relaxation.

Week two: two to four deep dives and if those are successful at least one dive below 200m.

Why 200m? That’s an operating depth in Hranicka Propast cave exploration, and the main reason for dual CCR construction. Caves are not forgiving environments for tests, therefore my choice of Dahab and confortable conditions in this part of Read Sea.

But let us get back to Egypt.

First week passed easy, I may dare to say - boring. All dives as planned. I’m doing my plan, support tem is drilling their procedures and in afternoons – kite.

Really easy life with minor equipment adjustments. Irenka is practicing photography; Marek is filming a little in his spare time. We are training emergency procedures several times and nothing is challenging us. Retroactively, I think those drills allowed me to survive problems on 155m. Dive described above.

In Planet Divers base, our host in Dahab, general plan of our project was known but small team (only 4 divers) and easy first dives are not foretelling any serious depths. We are not advertising our attempts, in peace and quiet is easier to concentrate on out tasks.

After problem dive I really needed concentration. The 155m dive was on my cold shoulder and a warning bell. All easy dives before somewhat deceived me. I stay alive, but it was close. Even if I trained for emergencies before, having real one and at this depth, it was a “completely different animal.”

A day off from diving was taken to sort all my thoughts. Most important is to find reason for O2 leak accruing at the higher depths. Few telephone calls with Tomek and my own reasoning bring me to conclusion: it must be oxygen regulator uncontrolled spike in intermediate pressure. I replace first stage and in addition lower IP. Test dive with IP gauge attached shows steady pressure. And just to improve my comfort zone, I’m preparing additional 6L tank with diluent; it’s not a cave, so I have plenty of space to incorporate with my rig and it will give me some peace of mind.

Early next morning: the final dive. My plan is to reach 200m, and if all will work okay and I will feel good, to move on to 222m.

And since I felt good therefore as planned finished my descent on 222m, without equipment malfunctions, without any stress and surprises. On way back, my support team were supposed to be and, luckily this time, supplied me only with drinks and reading material for long hours of deco. Reading is my favorite way killing boredom during deco, this time it was 9 long hours. I read Jonny Deep and his sweetheart biography, as well as many other magazine articles.

The swim from Bells to Blue Hole was well below 100m depth was one of my most beautiful dives in the Red Sea. Mostly because of: pleasantly chilled water, twilight and complete lack of reef. I also scavenged Three Halcyon lift bags and some reels – there are plenty of them lying around, so I took what was on my way and presented some value.

P.S. Currently I’m in Mexico working on my next project: The Pit cenote exploration.

Irena Stangierska – support, photography. • Marek Klyta – deep support diver.
Grzegorz Rutkowski – support diver.• Krzysztof Starnawski – diver.