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Background

The aim of the study was to retrospectively analyze diving fatalities occurring in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (northern Croatian littoral), Croatia between 1980 and 2010 in order to identify differences between fatally injured tourist and resident divers, as well as temporal changes in the frequency of diver deaths.

Methods

Medico-legal and police reports of 47 consecutive fatal diving cases were reviewed to determine the frequency of death among divers in relation to year and month of death, age, sex, nationality, organization of diving, diving type, and health condition.

Results

The majority of victims were foreign citizens (59.6%) most of whom fell victim to scuba diving (70.4%). It was found that 79% of resident divers succumbed during free-diving. The number of diving fatalities increased significantly in the last three decades, especially among free-divers. Of the victims, 93% were males, usually belonging to younger age groups with tourist divers being significantly older than local divers. And 31.9% of divers, mostly tourists, showed signs of acute, chronic, or congenital pathological conditions.

Conclusion

Fatally injured foreign divers differ from resident diver fatalities in diving method and age. Tourists are the group most at risk while scuba diving according to the Croatian sample. Occupational scuba divers and free-divers are the group most at risk among resident divers. This study is an important tool in uncovering the most common victims of diving and the related risk factors. It also highlights the problems present in the legal and medical monitoring of recreational divers and discusses possible pre-event, event, and post-event preventive actions that could lead to reduced mortality rates in divers.