16 Terrifying Scuba Accidents That Will Make You Think Twice About Diving

Although it offers a glimpse into a beautiful underwater world, scuba diving can be seriously dangerous if you're not careful. Some of the worst scuba accidents occur because of inexperienced divers making small mistakes. When diving, you always have to be alert and aware of your surroundings. The worst thing that you can do when you realize something is going wrong is to panic. That's practically a death sentence when you're scuba diving, so always be careful.

Even then, remaining calm might not be enough. Some of the divers who perished on this list were incredibly experienced and well-prepared, but still couldn't do anything to prevent their own deaths. Below is a list of some of the worst cave diving accidents that have occurred over the years. If this list teaches you one thing, it's to never take scuba diving lightly. It might be the last thing you ever do. 


  • A Diver Spends 10 Hours in Darkness with His Dead Friend More Than 900 Feet Under Water

    A Diver Spends 10 Hours in Darkness with His Dead Friend More Than 900 Feet Under Water
    Photo: jennifrog / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Friends Don Shirley and Dave Shaw went diving almost 1,000 feet underwater in Bushman's Cave in South Africa when seeking to recover the remains of Deon Dreyer, who had died in the cave a decade before. More people have walked on the moon than have descended to such depths.

    Video footage recovered later revealed that Shaw lost his light at depths and became entangled in the lines he was using to hoist Dreyer's body. 

    Meanwhile, an equipment failure led to Shirley accidentally receiving too much oxygen, which can have serious or even fatal effects. Then he developed a helium bubble that caused him to lose consciousness and let go of the guideline that told him how to get back out of the caves. He was spinning, disoriented, vomiting, searching for the line in total darkness, and not even knowing which was was up towards the surface.

    Eventually Shirley righted himself, but he still had to wait in the water for another 10 hours, slowly ascending, because going up to the surface more quickly would have given him the bends, a condition when divers get "bubbles" of air in their blood from returning to the surface too fast.

    However, Shaw's body eventually floated to the surface, attached to Dreyer's.

    (A riveting and terrifying audio account of the story is available on from NPR's This American Life.)

  • At Least Eight Divers Have Perished in Jacob's Well Due to False Exits and Blinding Silt

    At Least Eight Divers Have Perished in Jacob's Well Due to False Exits and Blinding Silt
    Photo: Larry D. Moore / via Wikimedia

    In Texas, a beautiful diving spot known as Jacob's Well has developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous places to dive in the country.  Although alluring, at least eight divers have lost their lives in Jacob's Well, with perhaps the worst being young Richard Patton. The Southwest Texas State University student was looking for a way to move from chamber to chamber in the cave, and ended up getting stuck in a false chimney that looked like a way out. 

    In parts of this underwater cave system, the floors are covered in fine gravel or silt and if a flipper so much as brushes the surface, the stirred-up sediment completely obscures a diver's vision, effectively blinding them.

    Free-diver Diego Adame recorded his terrifying near-drowning in the caves, after he lost a flipper and had to jettison his weight belt in a dash for the surface.

    Don Dibble, a nearby dive shop owner who is usually the one to pull the remains of dead divers out of the cave, attempted to seal of the depths of the well by installing a gate to stop people from going too deep. Shortly after, he found the gate destroyed with a note saying "You can't keep us out." Although extremely dangerous, it seems the cave is too alluring to stay away. 

  • A Diver Panics and Succumbs to Nitrogen Narcosis, Removing His Own Breathing Apparatus

    In April 2000, Russian diver Yuri Lipski geared up to dive at one of the world's most beautiful diving spots, the Blue Hole. Located on the east coast of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the spot has become a must for divers who want to see the coral-lined, 394-foot-deep sink hole.

    Lipski ended up dying at around the 300-foot mark. When you go that deep, your body is often subjected to nitrogen narcosis, a mental state that starts off similar to extreme drunkenness, but can eventually cause severe mental symptoms like hallucinations, paranoia, confusion, vertigo, and eventually death.

    Lipski's body and found that the diver had been recording at the time of his death. The footage is on YouTube, and it's highly disturbing to watch the diver start to panic and thrash around. In the end, he removes his breathing apparatus and the recording stops. 

  • An Experienced Diver Vanishes in a Wrecked Ship Without a Trace

    No matter how much experience you have diving, one small mistake or error can lead to your death. Diver Tom Pritchard was working on attaching a mooring line to the famed wreck of the Andrea Doria, which had come loose, when he suddenly vanished. Pritchard had close to 1,000 dives under his belt and the divers working with him had said Pritchard had a reputation for being incredibly careful and detail-oriented when it came to his dives.

    In the end, it didn't matter. When the other divers surfaced, they immediately noticed Pritchard was not with them. The Coast Guard was called to sweep the area, but found nothing, and the captain of the ship that Pritchard was on had to make the difficult call to not let the divers go back down immediately to look for Pritchard.

    The Andrea Doria wreckage has always been dangerous and has claimed more than 15 lives due to its unstable nature. As his remains still haven't been found, we might never know whether Pritchard died from equipment failure, a medical emergency, or if some part of the ship simply collapsed around him.