Dr Peter Bennett, founder and former president of the Divers Alert Network (DAN) has died at the age of 91.
Born in Portsmouth, UK, on 12 June 1931, Bennett graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of London, and was subsequently employed by the Royal Navy Physiology Laboratory, where he worked for the next 20 years, completing his Doctorate in 1964 at the University of Southampton.
Bennett was a founding member of the Undersea Medical Society – now the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society – later serving as its president and executive director. He moved to America in 1972, where he became director of the Frank G Hall Hyperbaric Centre at California’s Duke University Medical Centre. It was here that he is credited with the invention of trimix as a breathing gas, and subsequently the discovery of high pressure nervous syndrome (HPNS), which results from breathing helium at high pressures for extended periods of time.
The concept of a 24-hour telephone service for diving medical emergencies was first tabled by the Undersea Medical Society in 1977, and in 1980, Bennett received a grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), with which he formed the ‘National Diving Accident Network’, renamed the Diver’s Alert Network in in 1982 after implementing a telephone line for non-emergency queries from recreational divers.
Bennett oversaw the process of turning DAN into the International safety body it is today began in 1991, amalgamating organisations such as Europe’s International Diving Association and Japan’s Civil Alert Network under the same brand name of International DAN, and bringing in DAN Asia Pacific in 1994 and DAN Southern Africa in 1996.
Bennett received the 2002 DEMA Reaching Out Award for his outstanding contribution to the diving industry, before stepping down as president in 2003. He stepped down as President of the Divers Alert Network of America on 30 June 2003. He served as DAN’s Executive Director until 2007, after which he became executive director of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, where he remained until 2014
‘In founding DAN, Dr Bennett accomplished something truly remarkable,’ said current DAN president and CEO Bill Ziefle. ‘It is because of his vision and action that divers all over the world now have the support of an organization that stands ready to assist in the event of an emergency. Dr Bennet’s inquisitive mind and drive to achieve were gifts to divers everywhere.’
‘Peter Bennett dedicated his life to the advancement of diving,’ said DAN’s medical director Jim Chimiak, MD. ‘Few equal his combined accomplishments as a researcher, organizer, and leader in diving medicine. He will remain a profound influence on everyone working in this increasingly important area of human endeavour. He displayed an infectious, pioneering spirit that rallied expert, worldwide collaborations that routinely accomplished the impossible. He was a great mentor and friend who will be truly missed.’