Brian James Bugge
“Hello? Mrs. Bugge?” An unfamiliar voice on the phone line asked.
“Yes, this is she.” I replied slowly, with a questioning tone that implied Why are you calling me?
“I’m calling from the dive shop, there’s been an accident involving your husband Brian, where are you right now?”
One year ago from this moment I was kissing my husband goodbye as he left our home for the day, headed for his diving class and a morning of adventure. We exchanged coffee breathed kisses and I walked him outside to watch his white pickup truck drive him away. That would be the last time I saw my husband alive. Less than 3 hours later I’d receive this phone call, the phone call I replay in my head time and time again, the panic I hear in his voice, the uncertainty about what was waiting for me upon arrival at the ER.
At 749AM my husband sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and by 845AM, I was crumpled on the floor of the ER, holding my pregnant belly and screaming his name while Izzy and Hudson waiting outside in the our black Subaru. The same Subaru which he had driven down to Portland in only 5 years earlier to take me on our first Valentine’s Day date. My heart broke in that moment, shattered, and moments later as I walked into the “quiet room” and saw him for the first time, I crawled up on the bed with him and willed my heart to stop beating. I cried tears of anguish as I pleaded for my body to give out, for my broken heart to understand it couldn’t beat for both of us and to simply stop. But it didn’t. And as many times as I wished that over the following months, as I planned his funeral, moved off the island of Oahu, gave birth to Adeline without him and then moved to a new house with no memories of him there, as time went on, I started to wish it a little less. Izzy, Hudson and now Adeline remind me daily that even with a broken heart, love is still possible. This past year has been a roller coaster of emotion, you’ve all watched as I’ve worked through my struggles, you’ve celebrated the victories and successes with me and you’ve cheered me on and offered your love and support when I needed it most. I’m grateful to all of you for helping me through this. The one year mark feels like a giant milestone, but the reality is, this isn’t over yet. The pain is still there, it’s still raw and fresh and I know it will be a long time, if ever, I can close my eyes and not see him smile, hear his laugh, picture the way he looked at me and held my hand to his lips as he kissed it. I’m thankful for this, but realistic in the fact that some day these memories won’t be as fresh and I’ll have to be ok with that too.
I know a lot of you are curious about what happened to Brian, the circumstances leading up to and including his death. I haven’t held this information back, but I haven’t gone out of my way to make it public. The first question I needed answered was, ‘what happened’ because I needed to know if he struggled, if he fought, if he knew what was happening. That thought destroyed me for months until I had the answers. I’m sure some of you have had similar thoughts and I want to ease your mind that he didn’t. I’m including the details below so if you don’t want to read on from here, now would be a good time to know I’m grateful for you reading this and I understand if you want to stop here.
For those of you not familiar with how a rebreather works or how any of this could have happened, here is the cliffsnotes version.
A rebreather works on a closed-circuit loop system. You breathe air through your mouthpiece attached to a loop which cycles through the tube before passing through a scrubber system in your pack, designed to remove the CO2 you’ve exhaled. While the CO2 is being exhaled and scrubbed out, a separate system is injecting fresh O2 (and sometimes additional gasses) into the breathing loop, which in essence allows you to rebreathe your own air.
Brian had spent approximately 48 hours underwater on this device as he prepared to splash the morning of 20 May 2018. He was anxious for this specific class because he’d be diving Trimix for the very first time (a blend of O2, Nitrogen and Helium) and from witness statements the morning of, he did his prebreathe to check the functionality of his rebreather on the dock prior to the boat leaving the dock. It’s assumed he had his O2 tank turned on during this to verify his device was in working order as his computer shows at 7:09AM a predive check was started and completed at 7:12AM at which time he turned his computer to CCR mode. Once on board the boat and headed to the dive site, it’s assumed he turned his O2 tank off – assuming to save gas as he and at least one other student in his class were trained to do - and his computer was manually put in CCR mode at 7:12 and then to surface mode at 7:14. On the quick boat ride to the dive site, he donned his dry suit. The Hawaiian sun is hot, even in the mornings, and he made a comment that his “dry suit clock” had started, meaning he would overheat quickly if they spent a lot of time onboard before jumping in the water. They arrived at the dive site and his CCR computer was turned on, still in surface mode. Brian was one of the first people from the boat in the water – before a number of his classmates and his instructor. He was soon on the side of the boat, noting to his classmates and instructor still on board that there was a bit of a current. A few moments later he signaled he was ready for his camera which was handed over the side of the boat to him. It would have been within minutes of this (his computer shows a submerge of greater than 1.5 meters at 7:49AM) that Brian was witnessed at depth, sinking towards the ocean floor, the mouthpiece out of his mouth. Brian reached the ocean floor (37 meters) where he stayed for approximately one minute before his instructor reached him and did an emergency accent. He was pulled from the water and valiant CPR and rescue attempts were made by those on board as they called 911 and sped back to the marina. It was too late, as I told our 1 and 3 year old children as well as my 6 month pregnant belly later that afternoon, “Dadda drank too much water and would now be diving forever.” He was dead.
So what happened? He didn’t turn his 02 tank back on before jumping in the water. This would have been caught by his computer, if his computer were in dive mode instead of surface mode, which it were not. These two errors made by my husband caused him to breathe heavily at the surface because of the current, depleting the remaining oxygen available to breathe in his closed circuit loop and he quickly became hypoxic, passing out, opening his mouth causing his mouthpiece to fall out, flood with water and pull him under the surface towards the ocean floor.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that. My husband didn’t turn his oxygen back on prior to getting in the water. He failed to turn his computer back to dive mode prior to entering the water. He was distracted with his camera. He was more than likely uncomfortably warm from being in his dry suit. In the 24 hours prior to his dive he had been nervous for diving the new gas, frustrated with the level of support he was receiving from the school/shop/instructors, and feeling weary with his instructor in a conversation with a classmate in which he talked about dropping from the class which was answered with “good luck getting your money back.” There was pressure to complete this class.
Some of you may think these events would cause me to turn my back on the diving community, to become afraid of it or angry at it. On the contrary. Brian and I have loved diving since 2015 when we were first OW certified, we understand the freedom and sense of self that can be found underwater and I want to continue to promote and encourage that, to give others the opportunity to experience this same feeling, albeit safely. I’m motivated to do just this, specifically in the military community (Brian was a naval officer) who I believe can use diving as a form of rehabilitation during and after their transition from service. I’ve started a scholarship foundation in Brian’s name to promote, encourage and inspire others to use scuba diving as a means of finding and executing a passion in life. Brian encouraged others to find and follow their passions to no end and he will continue to do this even in death. For more information or to donate to this, please visit: www.ashleybugge.com/scholarship where you can also learn more about Brian and how the kids and I are learning to find our passions again after his death.