The Char-Broiled Scuba Diver

An Urban Legend

Also known as: "The Forest Fire Diver," "The Scuba Diver in the Tree," and "Scuba Diver in a Forest Fire"

Example #1
As told by reader Gerald, Dec. 2003:

There has been a recurring story over the years of a body being found on a large forest fire in the West. Different states and different fires have been mentioned in the rumor. Supposedly the body was fully clad in a wetsuit complete with scuba tanks and mask. The story is told that a scuba diver was accidently scooped up in an air tanker with a load of water from a) the Pacific ocean or b) a large lake. Not true. There are airplanes built to scoop up water which is then dumped onto forest fires; that part is true. But no such event as this has ever happened, but it certainly makes for a good story around a fire camp.

Example #2:
As told by reader Mehmet, April 11, 2001:

I've heard this story in Turkey. Forest fires are common on the Mediterranean coast line. After another forest fire in one of the Greek islands in the Agean Sea, they found a dead diver, complete with equipment and suit, in the forest. Further investigation revealed that he was fishing in the sea when a fire helicopter picked him up in its bucket. After the autopsy, they concluded that the diver actually was still alive when the copter dumped him on the fire. But the fire was strong, and the cause of death was severe burns and choking.

Example #3
Forwarded email contributed by Michael C., April 23, 1998:

Subject: Flipper in the Forest

If you think you're having a bad day...

Fire Authorities in California found a corpse in a burnt out section of forest whilst assessing the damage done by a forest fire. The deceased male was dressed in a full wetsuit, complete with a dive tank, flippers and face mask.

A post-mortem examination revealed that the person died not from burns, but from massive internal injuries. Dental records provided a positive identification. Investigators then set about determining how a fully clad diver ended up in the middle of a forest fire. It was revealed that, on the day of the fire, the person went for a diving trip off the coast -- some 20 MILES away from the forest.

The firefighters, seeking to control the fire as quickly as possible, called in a fleet of helicopters with very large buckets. The buckets were dropped into the ocean for rapid filling, then flown to the forest fire and emptied. You guessed it! One minute our diver was making like Flipper in the Pacific, the next he was doing a breaststroke in a fire bucket 300m in the air. Apparently, he extinguished exactly 1.78m (5'10") of the fire.

Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed!!

Analysis: If you ask me, the moral of the story could be more to the point: Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed, put on your wetsuit, and go scuba diving near a forest fire.

This is one of those classic "wrong place at the wrong time" legends. It's two decades old, at least. The email version has been floating around cyberspace since the 1990s.

According to folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, who reported several variants of the story in Curses, Broiled Again! (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989), it is "popular lore among divers" — even though, so far as anyone can determine, it has never actually happened. Nor, say airborne firefighters, could it happen. The intake openings of the buckets used to scoop up water are too narrow to accommodate an adult human being, let alone one in full scuba regalia.

TV's Mythbusters investigated this story in episode two of the 2004 season and came to the same conclusion: given the equipment used, it simply couldn't happen.

You'll find more variants catalogued at the AFU & Urban Legends Archive.

Last updated 09/15/13