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On the tv show "1000 Ways To Die", a death that is mentioned (Season 1, episode 10, death #710) claims that a girl exploded from what would seem to be decompression poisoning

A female scuba diver waits in a decompression chamber after making an emergency swim back to the surface. A maintenance worker, not knowing the diver is in the room, releases the pressure of the room, causing her body to instantly explode.

Is this really possible?

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It is possible for a person to effectively 'explode' in the event of an explosive decompression, but only if the pressure differential is significant. A chilling example of this is the Byford Dolphin diving bell accident*, where divers were decompressed from 9 to 1 atmospheres. This sort of catastrophic injury does not occur in the case of explosive decompression of an aircraft or spacecraft as the pressure differential is too small, however death can still occur through hypoxia and/or outgassing of dissolved gasses in vivo.

*Whilst the wikipedia article is not graphic, some readers may find the description of the event disturbing.

The report "An explosive decompression accident" in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology states:

The fate of diver 4 clearly demonstrates the tremendous force released in an accident like this. He was undoubtedly mutilated when he was shot out through the small opening left by the jammed chamber door. However, the expulsion of all internal organs from the thoracoabdominal "sack," including the spinal column and the ribs, suggest that he also must have exploded.

  • You might want to include some quotes from the sources mentioned in the Wikipedia article, Wikipedia by itself is not really reliable. – Mad Scientist Apr 16 '12 at 12:41
  • @Fabian - The primary source (the autopsy case report) is paywalled. – Richard Terrett Apr 16 '12 at 13:32
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    I would quibble (unfairly?) with the term "exploded" used by Wikipedia. There was an explosive decompression of the diving bell. The divers were injured/killed by this process, including some unusual effects of the pressure change on their blood. However, the bodies did not generate high temperatures, release energy, etc. (This is purely a quibble about definitions. If you ignite dynamite under a wooden table, is it fair to say the table "exploded"? Or did the dynamite explode, and the table got damaged by the explosion?) – Oddthinking Apr 16 '12 at 13:39
  • @Oddthinking - I believe the implication is that in at least the case of D4 the very rapid expansion of gases inside the body caused the described injuries. This would be both air inside the lungs and the rest of the body as well as dissolved gases dropping out of solution and rapidly expanding. The only other potential cause of injury would be through hitting the aperture. Unless the wikipedia article is jumping to a conclusion, I imagine the case report will indicate how the investigators differentiated these two scenarios. On a personal note, I do not want to read the report. – Richard Terrett Apr 16 '12 at 14:06
  • I didn't notice that the article was inacessible, I added the relevant quote to your answer. – Mad Scientist Apr 16 '12 at 20:49

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