Monday, June 27, 2011

Underwater Forensics

Eminent pathologist, Sir Bernard SpilsburyImage via Wikipedia

How Did He Do It?

In 1914, Margaret Lloyd died in her bath in Highgate, England. A relative of the victim of a similar drowning also previously married to Lloyd's widower, George Joseph Smith, spotted Lloyd's obituary and brought the matter to the police. An investigation uncovered Smith's criminal record, revealing that he had not only married Margaret Lloyd under an assumed name but had actually married three times, and each of his wives in turn had drowned in her bath. Despite the vanishingly small possibility that this had been coincidence, it seemed unlikely that someone could have assaulted the women in their bathtubs without a fierce struggle. Yet there had been no mark of violence on any of the bodies.

Smith was arrested, and a rising young pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, supervised the exhumations of Smith's two previous wives for autopsy. Studying the first woman's remains, Spilsbury decided that "gooseflesh" on her skin indicated she had died suddenly, and her organs showed no defect or disease that might have killed her. Smith's attorney claimed she had experienced an epileptic fit, but Spilsbury was determined to prove something more nefarious had occurred.

He dismissed the possibility that the five-foot-seven woman could have suffered a fit in a five-foot-long tub that would have placed her head under water, but he wanted to demonstrate how she might have died by homicide without a sign of struggle. With Detective Inspector Arthur Neil Young, he devised an experiment to explore the possibilities.

Several women agreed to don bathing outfits, sit in a bathtub similar to the one in Smith's home, and allow Young to try to drown them. After repeated failures, the feat seemed impossible without an incredible struggle. But then the detective deduced the answer: Smith had killed them by suddenly raising their knees into the air, which pulled their heads down and rendered them helpless to the rush of water. In fact, as the procedure was performed in front of a jury, the female participant went unconscious at once and had to be revived. It was a convincing show, which paid off. Since Smith had benefited financially from all three deaths, his motive was clear. Within twenty minutes, the "Brides in the Bath Killer" was convicted. In 1915 he was hanged for it.

Since that time, investigations about deaths in water have come a long way.

Thanks to Katherine Ramsland and tru Tv

Kathy Dowsett
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Identify and Avoid Scuba Diving Risks

Diver under the Salt Pier in Bonaire.Image via Wikipedia

Scuba diving is a risky sport. While most people will have a very good dive and never have a single problem, there are still scuba diving risks that can occur at any time. It is very important that you pay attention and are aware of the risks that you could face during a dive.

Hidden risks are possible when scuba diving. Like a bad weather or shark attack, some risks can come from nowhere. Human errors can cause as well troubles like running out of air or failing of unconditioned equipment. With these scuba diving risks, no matter the causes are, alertness and appropriate preparation before going to dive is your best defense.

Risks involving your equipment are something that are usually easy to avoid. You should always take training classes and be sure that you have the necessary skills to handle a dive. It is important that you also learn about the equipment that you are using. Know how it works and what must be done to prepare it for a dive.

Weather and shark attacks are some of the risks that can\'t be controlled but can be avoided simply by being observant. Examine the spot where you are to dive. Ask for any attacking sharks cases in the area and check for weather reports. The water conditions are another thing to find out. Adhering to these directions will help you to avoid potential risks.

A diver in bad condition of health is likely to encounter many scuba diving risks. Don't plunge in the water if you are get a cold or allergies. Likewise, it is not wise when taking medications. Alertness and focus are greatly affected when you're unwell or on medication thus at all sorts putting you on risk.

Many scuba diving risks are an issue because they are something divers simply are not aware of or that they do not consider. One such risk is dehydration. Being in the water does not mean you can't become dehydrated. Diving is quite a physical activity, so be sure you are well hydrated before you go out.

Diving with a partner can often prevent risks from becoming life threatening incidents. To dive alone is a no-no. Your dive buddy can assist you if something's happening that seems not right. Diving alone is dangerous thus you should never do.

Scuba diving risks do not have to be a component of your diving experience. Being precautious and well prepared can result to a delightful diving experience. Be a smart diver paying attention to what are the best things to be done for risks avoidance.

Thanks to Scuba Dive

Kathy Dowsett
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Making it look real – Tales of a scuba stuntwoman

If it was easy, everybody could do it. For me, I started diving as soon as I was old enough to get certified. My first few diving years was with a dive club affiliated with the Hungarian Military-BHG Dive Club. I logged over 1,000 dives by the time I was old enough to drink.

I always knew that I wanted to make a living out of SCUBA, and as soon as I learned English I became a PADI Instructor. Having logged over 5,000 dives, completing the training in Newport Beach made me to the youngest female Course Director in the world.

Until this point it was all hard work; then came the luck. One day a talent scout stopped by my old dive centre in search of girls who could swim in the ocean for an upcoming Axe Commercial. Swimming in a bikini is not difficult, but to do it all day long in 10ÂșC water proved more challenging.

The day began with 50 girls. By noon most of them were either seasick from waiting on the boat for hours between shoots or had severe hypothermia. By the end of the day only a teenage lifeguard and I remained, and thanks to her connections, we were pulled in under the Taft-Hartley Labor Act and became part of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) pool of stunt-women.

The Taft-Hartley Labor Act gives rights to non-union employees in union jobs, which meant we could both get hired for additional work by the production company. It was a huge deal! Most people wait many years to get a chance like this.

I was fortunate to work with Keir O’Donnell in Los Angeles while filming the ABC series Flash Forward. During one scene we were trapped in a bus sinking fast underwater. He kicks the windows out and rescues me.

Even though tens of thousands of SAG stunt performers live in Los Angeles, only a handful work regularly. It is a very tight community where people often depend on each other with their lives. Most stunt coordinators hire stunts and water safety people that they know or have worked with before. I got lucky again. Lots of stunt coordinators frequent our dive shop and I taught their kids and friends how to dive. Looking like the actress who needs a double also helps; plus the fact that there aren’t many female divers out there with my background.

All of these factors helped me land the opportunity to be Drew Barrymore’s “double” in an ice diving clip in Alaska as well as the chance to be Dina Meyer’s double in the cave diving scenes in Piranha 3D. I have been fortunate to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Alex Daniels, one of the most respected and busiest stunt coordinators in the business. In fact, he spent many years as David Hasselhoff’s stunt double!

When I asked him what it takes to be a good stunt diver, he said it was important to “develop every possible skill. A good stunt man is specialized, yet is well-rounded and has complete skills”.

“Your body works better in different environments if it is trained,” he added. Most people can’t open their eyes and scream underwater without sucking in water through their nose while filming a scene in a trapped car under a bridge.

“Practice being underwater without a mask upside down,” was Alex’s tip for those want to become stunt divers. My favorite tip is “luck comes to those who stay busy while waiting”. All you need to do is to work hard, sharpen your skills, take classes and meet people. Luck will come.

My Scariest experience as a stunt diver

During the filming of Piranha 3D in the cave (I was doubling for Dina Mayer), my scene became a bit more complicated than was first planned. I was supposed to die in a cave on my back while the piranhas were munching on me, and I had to lose my gear as well during my final minutes. I also had to fight the piranhas off my face (holding my breath) and crawl out of the cave with my final strength. It was scary knowing the tight cave’s two entrances were both blocked with camera operators. I couldn’t see anything, my gear was thrown away and I had one breath. On top of that it dawned on to me that we had no signal to show when I was REALLY out of air, not just acting. Luckily, all went well

Thanks to Dive Wire

About the Author

Szilvia Gogh Szilvia is the founder of a site designed to bring women together to share their enthusiasm about diving, travel and adventure. Miss celebrates the sport of scuba diving and provides a community of women divers that continues to grow.

Kathy Dowsett

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do Things Seem 25% Closer Underwater?

San Diego (Jan. 4, 2007) Navy Diver 1st Class ...Image via Wikipedia

Every scuba diver has been taught that underwater objects appear to be only three-quarters as far away as their physical (measured) distance. For objects subtending small angles at the mask and eye it is certainly true that, for any object distance, the object's in-water virtual image produced by the planar air-water interface (mask faceplate) is always nearly 25% closer to the interface. This is a consequence of the laws of refraction and is independent of the observer. It is not true, however, that the virtual image is always perceived to be at that distance.

Research into underwater distance perception contradicts the popular notion held by most scuba divers that things always look closer under water. An initial investigation by Ross (1965) found that object distances less than 39 ft. were indeed underestimated, as one would expect from the laws of refraction, but those greater than 39 ft. tended to be overestimated. Subsequent studies by Kent (1966), Luria et al (1967), and Luria and Kinney (1970) were in agreement that distance estimates for objects closer than one meter were, in fact, too small, but beyond one meter the perceived distances were too large!! Moreover, the distance overestimates increase both with object distance and water turbidity.

The correlation with water clarity suggests that the overestimates for large object distances are caused at least partly by loss of object-to-background contrast due to the absorption and scattering of light by water particles along the light path. The loss of colour and the haziness means that foreground objects are less distinct relative to the background. Studies in air (Fry et al) have demonstrated that reduced contrast effects cause object distances to be overestimated, so this trend apparently carries over into the underwater environment.

This cannot be the full explanation because the overestimates also occur in water even under conditions of high contrast. Luria and Kinney have pointed out that the major difference between scenes in air and scenes in water is that underwater there are relatively few clearly visible, familiar, and well-defined distance cues. The scenes approach the hazy, unstructured, homogeneous aspect of what is referred to in psychology as a 'Ganzfeld'. The characteristic loss of peripheral stimulation associated with a Ganzfeld impairs both object detection capability and depth of field judgments (stereoacuity). Experiments have shown that this leads to distance overestimates.

Hence, the underestimates that we all expect on the basis of refraction occur only at small mask-to-object distances.

Kathy Dowsett
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Underwater Forensics

LONDON - MARCH 26: A Metropolitan Police divin...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Underwater Crime Investigation

Aric Dutelle writes that the first documented dive teams trained specifically for forensic work were those of the Miami-Dade County Underwater Recovery Unit, established in 1960. Being on the ocean, this jurisdiction unsurprisingly dealt frequently with crime evidence tossed into the water. Dutelle notes that members of such teams must not only be skilled in diving but they're usually the ones who must photograph (if possible), document, fingerprint and recover evidence. A lot rides on their ability to perform a number of forensic functions competently underwater.

Dive teams should include divers trained in forensic recovery as well as line tenders familiar with the underwater environment who can establish solid communication via the diver's tether. It's important that team members trust each other, as underwater work, especially in "black water" where it's difficult to see, can be treacherous. If evidence such as a body is found, divers must map, diagram, and document its location and position. If possible, photos should be taken of remains in situ as soon as conditions permit.

A potential crime scene will include a "surface" and a "submerged" area. At the surface, investigators should look for the point of entry into the water, searching for potential evidence — clothing, footprints, or indications of a struggle. Only properly trained divers should investigate the submerged area. They might use sonar to locate both hazards and objects important to the investigation or they may simply feel their way through weeds and muck. In either event, the search should be conducted in an organized and systematic manner. For anything found, the divers can float markers on the surface. The divers should know the proper protocol for underwater photography in different conditions.

Andrea Zaferes and Walt Hendrick teach public safety diving and rescue via their organization, Team Lifeguard Systems (, and consult on underwater death investigations ( as a public service. Hendrick has been teaching since 1960, when he started an offshore rescue team in Puerto Rico. He founded Lifeguard Systems to further his efforts in bringing the proper techniques to people in public and military service. Andrea Zaferes joined his team in 1987 and is now vice president, and a trainer and program creator.

Zaferes taught diving with Dr. Lee Somers and Karl Huggins at the University of Michigan's Scientific Diving Program, serving as a diving safety officer for the American Museum of Natural History's Animal Behavior Research Department. She teaches around a thousand surface rescue and dive personnel annually, and has co-authored with Hendrick such publications as Surface Ice Rescue, Scuba Instructor Readiness Series, Field Neurological Evaluations, Public Safety Dive Operations, Blackwater Contingency, and Homicidal Drowning Investigator.

RipTide is part of Team Lifeguard Systems, offering assistance in the recovery of drowning victims and advising on the investigation of underwater homicides. RipTide also works to prevent drownings with education, as well as to document cases in which the cause of death was lack of preparation, improper procedure, suicide, accident, or homicide. RipTide then disseminates that information to investigative agencies to help improve procedures and avoid overlooking crucial evidence.

Having worked in over fifteen countries, Hendrick and Zaferes offer programs for everything from deaths in bathtubs to rescue under ice. Early in his career Hendrick was called into several supposed drownings that he believed to be homicides, so he helped develop techniques to ensure a proper investigation. On the TeamLGS Website, he notes that drowning is the eighth most common method of homicide, but he believes that were more drownings investigated for potential foul play, it would rank even higher. In the case child drownings, which are usually ruled accidental, he surmised that as many as 20% could be homicides.

This team also researches homicide victims dumped into water postmortem, such as Laci Peterson, and they've written guidelines for divers to manage such crime scenes with the least possible disturbance. They advocate procedures that mirror those for land-based incidents, emphasizing the importance of the many things too often overlooked during water recovery, such as questioning witnesses or taking proper measurements. Water is a tricky medium, but securing a conviction for a homicide demands appropriate evidence handling. Much can be missed if investigators fail to think through all the angles, and this is especially relevant for underwater crime scenes.

thanks to Katherine Ramsland and tru tv

Kathy Dowsett

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Breathe Efficiently When Scuba Diving

Scuba DivingImage by hppyhntr via Flickr

Breathing underwater is a skill generally reserved for little fishes. When we land mammals attempt it during scuba diving, we must proceed correctly.

Understand that oxygen converts to carbon dioxide only inside the lungs.

Know that everything else the throat, mouth and nose is dead-air space.

Realize that snorkels and scuba regulators increase the length of normal dead-air spaces.

Breathe deeply while diving, in order to flush out dead air and bring fresh oxygen into the lungs.

Inhale slowly (with your tongue at the roof of your mouth, like a splash guard) in case water has entered the snorkel or regulator.

Never hold your breath; trapped air will expand as you ascend.

If you begin to choke, hold the regulator with one hand and cough or spit into it as much as necessary; the regulator can handle it. Just don't panic.

Thanks to eHow

Kathy Dowsett

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Ama - the women divers of Japan

Ama divers at Jeju-do, KoreaImage via Wikipedia

In a few fishing villages along the coast of Japan, there are an amazing group of women known as ama. Ama, meaning ‘sea woman’, are free divers, women who make their living by diving to depths of up to 25 metres without using oxygen tanks or other breathing apparatus. Instead, the ama rely on their own skill and breathing techniques to propel them to the bottom of the ocean and back to the surface again while holding their breath for up to two minutes at a time. Even more remarkable, in recent years as the population has aged and young people leave the villages for the city, the majority of ama are now aged in their 50s and 60s, with some divers continuing to dive well into their 70s. While there are also male divers (also known as ama, but using a different kanji character to distinguish between male and female) in some areas in Japan, it is the women divers who have attracted the most interest and captured the imaginations of Japanese and Westerners alike.

The history of the ama dates back at least 2000 years. There are references to the ama in famous texts such as the 8th century Man’yoshu collection of Japanese poetry and Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book from the 10th century. The ama have also been immortalised in ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the Edo period and even infiltrated Western popular culture by achieving the somewhat dubious honour of appearing as a Bond girl in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967).

There are various theories for the dominance of women as free divers, some suggest that in ancient times there were equal numbers of male and female divers but when the men began to travel further out to sea in boats to pursue fishing the women stayed close to shore, diving for seaweed and shellfish at the bottom of the ocean and this tradition was passed down to the daughters and granddaughters. The widely-held belief among ama divers themselves is that women are able to withstand the cold water better because of extra layers of fat on their body and are therefore able to stay in the water for longer periods and collect a bigger catch.

Traditional ama divers used a minimum amount of equipment, they usually wore only a fundoshi (loincloth) while diving to make it easier to move in the water and a tenugui (bandanna) around their head to cover their hair. The tenugui might also have good luck charms written on it to protect the diver from evil spirits. Ancient ama divers also used a wooden tub or barrel as a buoy, this buoy was connected to them by a rope and they would use it to rest and catch their breath between dives. Those divers who descended the deepest would also wear a weighted belt around their waist to aid their descent. The most important tool for divers searching for abalone (the most prized and lucrative catch) was the tegane or kaigane, a sharp spatula-like tool used to pry the stubborn abalone from the rocks.

In the early 1900s goggles were introduced and quickly adopted by the ama. Around this time air hoses and hand pumps were also introduced from abroad and used in shellfish diving in some regions but it quickly became obvious that a diver using such equipment could stay submerged for longer and would soon destroy the resource base. In an effort to protect the abalone and prevent overfishing air apparatus were banned by the fisheries cooperatives that all commercial ama divers must belong to and the ban remains to this day.

However, other new equipment has been introduced over the years. Until the 1960s, many ama, especially those in villages along the Pacific Ocean coast of Japan, continued to dive wearing only fundoshi, or cotton shorts, a remarkable sight captured by Japanese photographer Iwase Yoshiyuki in his series of photographs taken on the Chiba peninsula in the first half of the twentieth century. With the introduction of the wetsuit to Japan in the 1970s, the sight of a half-naked ama diver became rare and wetsuits are now an accepted form of equipment for diving.

The advent of wetsuits did alter the working conditions of ama to some extent. In the past there were no restrictions set by the cooperative on how many hours a diver could work, when dressed only in fundoshi or a thin white cotton outfit called isogi, ama divers were prevented from working long hours and therefore overfishing by the coldness of the water. However, when wetsuits were introduced and extended the amount of time that a diver could stay in the water, the fisheries cooperative imposed rules to protect the resources, in particular abalone, and prevent overfishing. The cooperatives decided to shorten the diving season and the number of hours per day that a diver could stay in the water, typically 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon in spring and two hours twice a day in summer. In the past ama may have spent up to six hours in the water per day, therefore with the introduction of wetsuits the pressure to find as many abalone as possible in a shorter time has increased.

Although ama diving practices and techniques vary from region to region, there are 2 general types of ama. Oyogido or kachido divers don’t use a boat, instead they swim out to the diving areas close to shore and dive to quite shallow depths of 2 to 4 metres. These divers are usually novices who perfect their breathing and diving technique in the relatively safer environment closer to shore. Older ama who are no longer able to dive to deeper depths may also engage in this type of diving.

Funado are the most experienced divers who have worked their way up the ranks and are able to make the best income. Funado work with a single boatman (often their husband) and dive from a boat further from the shore, descending to depths of up to 25 metres. In order to descend to such depths quickly funado hold a 10-15kg weight attached to a rope on their way down to the sea bed. When the funado is almost out of breath and ready to ascend she tugs on the rope attached to her waist and the boatman pulls her to the surface using a pulley system on the boat.

During the diving season, life for the ama revolves around the ama hut, or amagoya. This is the place where the divers gather in the mornings to prepare for the day, eating, chatting and checking their equipment. After diving they return to the hut to shower, rest and warm their bodies to recover from their day’s work. The atmosphere in the hut is one of relaxation and camaraderie, for six months of the year the women are free from the usual familial and social duties they are expected to perform, and they are able to connect with other women who share their love of the ocean and diving. In the past, when career opportunities for women in a small village were limited and married women were expected to stay at home under the watchful eye of their mother in law, life as an ama must have been an attractive prospect despite the tough conditions and potential dangers.

The amagoya was also a place of learning for novice divers. Unlike other traditional crafts, there is no formal apprentice-style system of training for ama divers. While diving skills such as breathing techniques can be acquired relatively easily through practice, the most valuable knowledge, that of the best places to find abalone are a closely guarded secret, even between mother and daughter divers. However, in the amagoya, by listening to the more experienced divers’ recap of their day, novice divers could begin to gather valuable knowledge about the local reef environment and therefore where the most abalone are likely to be found.

While ama gather various foods such as seaweed, shellfish and sea urchin, it is the abalone which is most prized and lucrative. In the heyday of abalone diving in the 1960s, a skilful ama could earn as much as 80,000 US dollars in a six month diving season. As a result, talented ama were viewed as highly eligible and could take their pick of the local men when choosing a husband.

Unfortunately, with the decline of abalone stocks the earning power of the ama has also been reduced. Despite the efforts of the fisheries cooperatives to preserve precious resources through restricted diving hours, bag limits and size regulations, outside factors such as pollution and global warming have harmed the environment and affected the growth of abalone. While in the past it may have been possible to make a good living from abalone diving alone, most ama now dive to supplement their main income of farming or other work.

In a trend that mirrors the general population in Japan, the ama population is ageing rapidly. Many of the divers active today are in their 50s and 60s, with very few ama aged in their 20s and 30s. The work of the ama seems to be a unique opportunity for Japanese women to engage in competitive, exciting, potentially lucrative work that provides a great amount of freedom and independence but at the same time allows women to be part of a tight-knit group of fellow enthusiasts that life as a housewife would not have afforded. In previous generations this was very rare and would explain why the job was attractive despite the harsh conditions and potential danger. In this day and age when career opportunities for women have expanded greatly and factors such as environmental damage and economic problems have reduced the earning power of ama divers, younger women may not be as attracted to the job. It would be a great shame for the tradition of ama diving to disappear due to the pressures of modern life, we can only hope that the call of the ocean will be strong enough to attract a new generation of women who will be proud to be called ama.

thanks to Ama

Kathy Dowsett
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