Scuba decompression illness and diving fatalities in an overseas military community

Aviat Space Environ Med. 1997 Apr;68(4):325-33.


A retrospective study of scuba decompression illness (DCI) and fatalities in the U.S. military community on Okinawa Island, Japan, was performed for 1989-95. Some 94 cases of diving DCI, including 10 cases of cerebral air-gas embolism (CAGE), and 9 diving fatalities were reported, for an annual incidence of 13.4 DCI events and 1.3 fatalities per 100,000 dives. The overall estimated incidence of scuba DCI was estimated to be 1/7400 dives, with an annual incidence of undeserved DCI of 1/37,300, and a fatality rate of 1/76,900. A review of treatment dives revealed a 10% overdiagnosis rate in cases treated for presumed DCI. A bimodal distribution of DCI accidents was observed for depths deeper or shallower than 24.6m/80FSW (feet of sea water). Increased risk of DCI in diving deeper than 24.6m/80FSW was associated with violations of no-decompression limits (NDL), while other risk factors were associated with diving to less than 24.6m/80FSW. NDL violations accounted for only 24/94 (26%) of all DCI accidents. Treatment of divers with hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) led to complete recovery in 91% of cases, but of those divers requiring retreatment with HBOT, 67% had chronic residua of DCI. Selected illustrative and interesting cases are discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decompression Sickness / diagnosis
  • Decompression Sickness / etiology*
  • Decompression Sickness / mortality*
  • Decompression Sickness / therapy
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Diving / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / ethnology