This part of the story is about the BIG DIVE, how Dave Shaw and Don Shirley called the try to recover the dead body of the young Deon Dryer. All preparation is done and it was the day to do something no human being did before. What happens down the bottom in Bushmans Hole is documented in a dramatic way… with the Helmet camera of Dave Shaw…
Raising the Dead – Part 5
At 4 A.M. ON SATURDAY, January 8, Shaw and Shirley rose in the dark to prepare for the dive. It had been a rough night for Shirley. The previous evening, as he was changing the battery on his new Hammerhead controller, a wire snapped. Without the unit, he wouldn’t be able to make the dive. Shirley was devastated. Shaw felt deeply for his friend but was prepared to proceed without him. He put Shirley and Peter Herbst in touch with Juergensen Marine, the Hammerhead manufacturer. At 9 p.m.—the cutoff time he had set for himself—Shaw went to bed. With the help of Juergensen, a soldering iron, and some tinfoil, Herbst managed to jury-rig a fix. The Hammerhead powered up, and Shirley was a go again.
In the gray predawn light, Shaw and Shirley began the ten-minute drive to the hole, listening to iPods to relax. Shaw had bought two in Hong Kong, loaded them with mixes he called Deep Cave 1 and Deep Cave 2, and given one to Shirley as a gift. (Shirley’s favorite tune for the ride to the crater was Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”) At the water, they started squeezing into their drysuits. Knowing how long he might be underwater, Shirley added an adult diaper to his ensemble. The rest of the team—the support divers, the police divers, the paramedics—assembled as well, and the rocky, uneven ground around the surface pool became crowded, dive equipment spilling over every flat surface. Verna van Schaik, 35, a South African who had set the outright women’s depth record of 725 feet at Bushman’s in October, settled in with a large sheaf of dive tables. Shirley had asked her to run the dive as surface marshal, and van Schaik, who has magenta hair and a dolphin tattoo on her right ankle, was hoping she was going to have an easy day.
At 6:13 a.m., video camera whirring quietly on his head, Shaw shook Shirley’s hand, said, “I’ll see you in 20 minutes,” and ducked into the dark waters of Bushman’s Hole. A few minutes later, Theo and Marie Dreyer made their way to the water’s edge. They had come late so that Shaw wouldn’t feel any additional pressure to bring Deon back.
Shaw dropped quickly, letting the shot line squeak through his fingers. He hit the bottom in just over 11 minutes, more than a minute and a half faster than he had planned, and immediately started swimming along the cave line. As soon as the corpse loomed ahead, he pulled out the body bag. Then he knelt alongside Deon and went to work. He almost certainly could feel the narcosis kicking in. The helium and reduced nitrogen of his trimix would have limited the effect, but it was probably still as if he had downed four or five martinis. He had been on the bottom of Bushman’s Hole, at 886 feet, for just over a minute.
Thirteen minutes after Shaw submerged, Shirley got the go signal from van Schaik and dropped toward his rendezvous point with Shaw, at 725 feet. Approaching 500 feet, he looked down. The water was so clear he could see Shaw’s light almost 400 feet below him. It was about where he expected it would be, in the region of the shot line. There was only one problem: The light wasn’t moving. Shirley knew instantly that something had gone very wrong. By this time, more than 20 minutes into his dive, Shaw should have been ascending. Shirley should have seen bubbles burbling up as Shaw vented the expanding gases in his rebreather and drysuit. But there was no movement. No bubbles. Nothing but a lonely, still light.
Dave Shaw’s last Dive
There is no room for emotion or panic in the bowels of a dark hole. Shirley stayed calm, his actions becoming almost automatic. Shaw hadn’t signaled for help, but Shirley would be going to the bottom. A motionless diver at 886 feet is almost certainly a dead diver, but it was Dave Shaw down there. Shirley had to see if there was anything he could do, or at least clip Shaw to the shot line so his body could be recovered. OK, here we go, then, he said to himself.
At about 800 feet, deeper than he had ever been, Shirley heard the slight, sharp crack of enormous pressure crushing something, and then there was a thud. He looked down: The Hammerhead controller on his left forearm was a wreck. Without it, Shirley would have to constantly monitor the oxygen levels in his rebreather and inject oxygen into his breathing loop manually. It was a full-time occupation, an emergency routine at a life-threatening depth. Shirley was certain that if he went down to Shaw he would join him for eternity. He got his rebreather back under control and started back up the shot line, flipping through the alternate decompression profiles he was carrying with him on slates. He was facing at least another ten hours in the water. After a few minutes, Shaw’s light was swallowed by the darkness below him…
The next 10 hours became a nightmare to Don Shirley and at that depth is no one who can help him
In Part 4 of Raising the Dead it is all about the last days before the “Big Dive”. The last words of Dave Shaw to his wife; the arrival in South Africa, the preparation at Bushmans hole and the last briefing with his crew…. with words which became dramatically true.
Raising the Dead – Part 4
IN NOVEMBER 2004, back home in his apartment in Hong Kong, Shaw was in almost daily e-mail and phone contact with Shirley. The Big Dive, as they started to call it, was set for early January, and one of the most elusive questions was the condition of Deon’s body. The forensics experts they consulted weren’t sure but guessed the corpse would be mostly bone. Shaw decided he’d better try to get it into a body bag for the trip to the surface or risk having it fall apart. Together with Ann, he designed a silk bag with drawstrings, long enough to fit over Deon’s fins.
Ann, a 49-year-old deputy head principal at Hong Kong’s German Swiss International School, was nervous about the dangers her husband faced. “I want someone to ring me as soon as you are on your way up,” she insisted. Shaw agreed but gave Ann the impression the dive would be taking place a day later than scheduled. That way, he could just call her when he was back on the surface and say, “Don’t worry. It’s all over and I’m fine.” If he wasn’t fine, he gently told Ann, he would arrange to have someone call Michael Vickers, their minister at Hong Kong’s Anglican Resurrection Church.
On the evening of Saturday, January 1, Ann made the 45-minute drive to Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok airport with 250 pounds of dive gear in her car. Shaw had been flying that day, and she met him at the Cathay Pacific offices and drove him to the departure area for his flight to South Africa. They sat together in a coffee bar. “You’re not crying, are you?” he asked. “No,” Ann replied bravely. Shaw got up to leave for his flight. He didn’t say, “I love you.” He didn’t need to. She knew.
Shaw arrived in Johannesburg six days before the dive. His first stop was Komati Springs, where he practiced getting a body into the bag underwater, with Shirley playing the part of Deon’s corpse. At 66 feet, it went smoothly, taking Shaw only a couple of minutes. A day later, he and Shirley drove to Mount Carmel, where seven South African rebreather divers, handpicked by Shirley, and a police team from Cape Town and Pretoria (since there was a dead body involved) were assembling. The dive would go off on the coming Saturday, January 8, and Shirley’s dive plan was like an underwater symphony. Shaw was looking at a dive that would last roughly 12 hours, and would hit the water around 6 a.m. All the other divers would key off Shaw’s dive time and head for specific target depths either to help look after Shaw or pass Deon’s body to the surface. The first diver Shaw would meet on the way back up was Shirley, at 725 feet. He would hand the body bag over, and, if things went well, Deon would be out of the water about 80 minutes after Shaw’s dive had started.
Shirley had done everything in his power to minimize the risks. He planned to have 35 backup cylinders of gas in the water—enough so that he, Shaw, and even some support divers could survive total rebreather failure. He arranged for a rope-and-sling system to be set up that could haul a diver on a stretcher up the cliffs of the hole to a recompression chamber that the police trucked in. To cope with any medical emergencies, Shirley had recruited a doctor—Jack Meintjies, a specialist in diving physiology at the University of Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town—to be on hand. When Meintjies realized that up to nine divers would be in the water, and learned the depths they would be going to, he almost backed out. “There were too many potential bodies. You are dealing with multiple divers going deep, and that’s serious,” Meintjies says.
Shaw, for one, was quietly confident. At Mount Carmel, he stressed repeatedly that the effort was an “attempted” body recovery. “The dive is huge,” he told a collection of reporters and cameramen gathered a day before the dive. “No one has ever attempted anything even vaguely approximating a body recovery from these sorts of depths.” He also talked about his motivation with the team. “I think what you are doing for the Dreyers is great,” said Peter “Big B” Herbst, a 42-year-old dive instructor and the owner of Reef Divers, a dive shop and tour operator in Pretoria. Shaw looked at him, winked, and said, “Face it, B, we’re doing this for the adventure of it.”
Shaw did have one wrinkle to sort out. He had partnered up with South African documentary filmmaker Gordon Hiles to chronicle the recovery of Deon. Hiles had designed an underwater camera housing for a lightweight, low-light Sony HC20 Handy- cam and attached it to a Petzl climbing helmet. Shaw was not used to wearing a helmet. He liked to carry a high-intensity light on the back of his hand, and if he needed both hands underwater, Shaw would normally sling the light and cable around his neck so it wouldn’t snag on anything. The helmet cam would make it hard to do that. Shaw tried the device in the swimming pool at Mount Carmel and decided he was comfortable with the design and weight. He told Hiles that, instead of slinging his light around his neck, he would occasionally set it out to the side.
Three days before the dive, Shaw carried the camera on an acclimatization dive to 500 feet. It came out in perfect running order. “A very impressive bit of gear,” Shaw said to Hiles. “I’m sure you’ll be impressed with my video footage as well.” Everyone laughed.
The divers gathered for one last briefing on Friday. It was a warm, beautiful evening, and Shaw had some final points to make. “The most important person on this dive is you. If you have a problem, deal with your problem and forget about me,” he told the team. “It’s better to have one person dead than two.” He had a separate, private conversation with Shirley, who had upgraded his rebreather for the dive with an oil-filled Hammerhead controller so he could get all the way to the bottom of Bushman’s if he had to. Shirley had asked his friend, “If you have problems, do you want me to come down?”
Shaw considered the question and answered, “Yes, but only come down if I signal.”
Shirley and Shaw had one last message for the gathered team. “If Dave doesn’t make it, if I don’t make it, we stay there,” said Shirley. “That’s the end of the story. We don’t want to be recovered.”
The following is the second part of the true and tragic story about Dave Shaw’s failed attempt to to recover the dead body of Deon Dreyer who never returned from Bushman’s Hole. His body was found by Dave Shaw ten years later on a world-record dive to 271 Meters, the bottom of Bushman’s cave.
This part describes the unlucky happening on December 17, 1994 when Deon Dreyer did not return to the surface to be found by Shaw 10 years later.
Raising the dead – part 2
DEEP-WATER DIVERS have always been the daredevils of the diving community, pushing far into the dark labyrinths of water-filled holes and extreme ocean depths. It’s a small global fraternity—there are no more than a dozen members—and in the history of recreational diving, only six people other than Shaw have ever pulled off successful dives below 820 feet. (More people have walked on the moon, Don Shirley likes to point out.) At least three ran into serious trouble in the process (including Nuno Gomes, who got stuck in the mud on the bottom of Bushman’s Hole for two minutes before escaping). And two have since died: American Sheck Exley, who drowned while diving the world’s deepest sinkhole, Mexico’s 1,080-foot-deep Zacatón, in April 1994; and Britain’s John Bennett, who disappeared while diving a wreck off the coast of South Korea in March 2004.
“Today extreme divers are far exceeding any reasonable physiology capabilities,” says American Tom Mount, a pioneer in technical diving and the owner of the Miami Shores, Florida–headquartered International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD). “Equipment can go to those depths, but your body might not be able to.”
Aside from the dangers of getting trapped or lost, breathing deep-dive gas mixes—usually a combination of helium, nitrogen, and oxygen known as trimix—at extreme underwater pressure can kill you in any number of ways. For example, at depth, oxygen can become toxic, and nitrogen acts like a narcotic—the deeper you go, the stupider you get. Divers compare narcosis to drinking martinis on an empty stomach, and, depending on the gas mix you’re using, at 800-plus feet you can feel like you’ve downed at least four or five of them all at once. Helium is no better; it can send you into nervous, twitching fits. Then, if you don’t breathe slowly and deeply, carbon dioxide can build up in your lungs and you’ll black out. And if you ascend too quickly, all the nitrogen and helium that has been forced into your tissues under pressure can fizz into tiny bubbles, causing a condition known as the bends, which can result in severe pain, paralysis, and death. To try to avoid getting the bends, extreme divers spend hours on ascent, sitting at targeted depths for carefully calculated periods of decompression to allow the gases to flush safely from their bodies. As divers say, if you do the depth, you do the time.
About Bushman’s Hole
For any diver who can stomach the risks, Bushman’s Hole is world-class. It’s located on the privately owned Mount Carmel game farm, 11,000 acres of rolling, ocher-earthed veldt sparsely thatched with silky bushman grass and dotted with sun-baked termite mounds. Not until you top a small rise a few miles from the farm dwellings do you notice a break in the clean sweep of the land, where the earth starts to fall in on itself as if a giant hammer had come smashing down. The resulting crater is hundreds of feet from rim to rim and walled on one side by a sheer cliff. If you hike down the steep, stony path on the opposite side, you come to a small, swimming-pool-size basin of water, covered in a green carpet of duckweed. This is the entrance to Bushman’s Hole.
No one had any idea how deep Bushman‘s was until Nuno Gomes arrived. On his first visit, in 1981, the Johannesburg-based Gomes dived to almost 250 feet, dropping down through a narrow chimney that opens up into an enormous chamber below 150 feet. In 1988, he set an African depth record of just over 400 feet, and Bushman’s reputation as a deep diver’s cave started to spread. In 1993, Sheck Exley showed up. Supported by a team that included Gomes, Exley became the first diver to hit bottom, touching down at 863 feet on the hole’s sloping floor.
During the Exley expedition, Gomes performed a sonar scan of the hole. It revealed Bushman’s to be the largest freshwater cave ever discovered, with a main chamber that was approximately 770 feet by 250 feet across and more than 870 feet deep. (Gomes later found a maximum depth of at least 927 feet.)
Diving Bushman’s is exhilarating. The narrow entrance is claustrophobic, but once you reach the vast main chamber, it’s like spacewalking. For a young cave diver like Deon Dreyer, it must have been irresistible. Deon grew up in the modest town of Vereeniging, about 35 miles south of Johannesburg, and loved adventure in all its forms. He shot his first buck at the age of ten. By 17 he was racing a souped-up car around local tracks, tinkering with his motorcycle, and designing obscenely loud car stereos. Another of his passions was diving. “He couldn’t sit still, never, ever, ever,” says his younger brother, Werner, now 27.
Deon had logged about 200 dives when he was invited to join some South Africa Cave Diving Association divers at Bushman’s Hole over the 1994 Christmas break. They planned a descent to 492 feet and asked Deon to dive support. He was thrilled. Two weeks before the expedition, Deon’s grandfather passed away. Sitting around a barbecue with his family one night, Deon spoke with boyish hubris. “He said if he had a choice of how to go out in life, he’d like to go out diving,” recalls his father, Theo, 51, the owner of a business that sells and services two-way radios.
Deon’s mother, Marie, a petite 50-year-old, begged Deon not to go. In 1993, Bushman’s Hole had already taken the life of a diver named Eben Leyden, who blacked out at 200 feet. (A dive buddy rushed him to the surface, but Leyden didn’t survive.) And then, on December 17, 1994, the hole claimed Deon Dreyer.
For Marie and Theo, the nightmare started with a policeman’s knock at the door. They rushed to Mount Carmel, where slowly the story came out. The team had been doing a practice dive. On the way back up, at 196 feet, Deon appeared to be fine, exchanging hand signals with his buddy. The group continued ascending. At 164 feet they suddenly noticed a light below them. A quick, confused diver count came up one short. Team leader Dietloff Giliomee wasn’t sure what was happening. Then another diver, in the eerie glow of his submersible light, dragged his finger across his throat. Giliomee desperately started swimming down but stopped when he realized the light below him was already more than 100 feet deeper and fading fast. “I decided it was a suicide chase,” he wrote in the accident report.
No one knows for sure what killed Deon. The best guess is deep-water blackout from carbon dioxide buildup. Two weeks after the accident, Theo paid to bring in a small, remotely operated sub used by the De Beers mining company. It found Deon’s dive helmet on the vast floor of Bushman’s, but there was no sign of his body. Resigning themselves to the idea that Deon would stay in the hole for eternity, Theo and Marie placed a commemorative plaque on a rock wall above the entry pool. “He had the most majestic grave in the country,” Theo says. “And I said, ‘Well, this will be his final resting place.’ ”
But on October 30, 2004, Dave Shaw called Theo and said, “I will go and fetch your son.” Theo immediately responded, “Yes, absolutely yes.” More than anything, he realized, he wanted to see his boy again.
The following story is a copy – paste about the promise of Dave Shaw, an Australian extreme Cave-diver to lift the dead body of Deon Dreyer who was missed since 10 years in Bushman’s hole in South Africa, the biggest underwater cave in the world.
Many fellow divers know that story but as I have here on dive-monster.com a lot of non divers too, i want to give the chance to read this compelling human story of friendship, heroism, unswerving ambition and of coming to terms with loss and tragedy.
The story about Bushman’s Hole I publish here is written by Tim Zimmermann and was published in the page of outside.away.com
Raising the Dead part 1
Ten minutes into his dive, Dave Shaw started to look for the bottom. Utter blackness pressed in on him from all sides, and he directed his high-intensity light downward, hoping for a flash of rock or mud. Shaw, a 50-year-old Aussie, was in an alien world, more than 800 feet below the surface pool that marks the entrance to Bushman’s Hole, a remote sinkhole in the Northern Cape province of South Africa and the third-deepest freshwater cave known to man.
Shaw’s stocky five-foot-ten body was encased in a black crushed-neoprene drysuit. On his back he carried a closed-circuit rebreather set, which, unlike traditional open-circuit scuba gear, was recycling the gas Shaw breathed, scrubbing out the carbon dioxide he exhaled and adding back oxygen. He carried six cylinders of gas, splayed alongside him like mutant appendages. On the surface, Shaw would barely have been able to move. But in the water, descending the shot line guiding him from the cave’s entrance to the bottom, he was weightless and graceful, a black creature with just a flash of skin showing behind his mask, gliding downward without emitting a single bubble to disrupt the ethereal silence.
Only two divers had ever been to this depth in Bushman‘s before. One of them, a South African named Nuno Gomes, had claimed a world record in 1996 when he hit bottom, on open-circuit gear, at 927 feet. Gomes had turned immediately for the surface. But Shaw, a Cathay Pacific Airways pilot based in Hong Kong and a man who had become one of the most audacious explorers in cave diving, didn’t strive for depth alone. He planned to bottom out Bushman’s Hole at a depth that no rebreather had ever been taken, connect a light reel of cave line to the shot line, and then swim off to perform the sublime act of having a look around. At that moment late last October, cocooned in more than a billion gallons of water, Dave Shaw was a very happy man.
Shaw touched down on the cave’s sloping bottom well up from where Gomes had landed, clipped off the cave reel, and started swimming. There was no time to waste. Every minute he spent on the bottom—his VR3 dive computer said he was now approaching 886 feet—would add more than an hour of decompression time on the way up. Still, Shaw felt remarkably relaxed, sweeping his light left and right, reveling in the fact that he was the first human ever to lay line at this depth. Suddenly, he stopped. About 50 feet to his left, perfectly illuminated in the gin-clear water, was a human body. It was on its back, the arms reaching toward the surface. Shaw knew immediately who it was: Deon Dreyer, a 20-year-old South African who had blacked out deep in Bushman’s ten years earlier and disappeared. Divers had been keeping an eye out for him ever since.
Shaw turned immediately, unspooling cave line as he went. Up close, he could see that Deon’s tanks and dive harness, snugged around a black-and-tan wetsuit, appeared to be intact. Deon’s head and hands, exposed to the water, were skeletonized, but his mask was eerily in place on the skull. Thinking he should try to bring Deon back to the surface, Shaw wrapped his arms around the corpse and tried to lift. It didn’t move. Shaw knelt down and heaved again. Nothing. Deon’s air tanks and the battery pack for his light appeared to be firmly embedded in the mud underneath him, and Shaw was starting to pant from exertion.
This isn’t wise, he chastised himself. I’m at 270 meters and working too hard. He was also already a minute over his planned bottom time. Shaw quickly tied the cave reel to Deon’s tanks, so the body could be found again, and returned to the shot line to start his ascent.
Approaching 400 feet, almost an hour into the dive, Shaw met up with his close friend Don Shirley, a 48-year-old British expat who runs a technical-diving school in Badplaas, South Africa. After Shirley checked that Shaw was OK and retrieved some spare gas cylinders hanging on the shot line below, Shaw showed him an underwater slate on which he had written 270m, found body. Shirley’s eyebrows shot up inside his mask, and he reached out to shake his friend’s hand.
Shirley left Shaw, who had another eight hours and 40 minutes of decompression to complete. As Shirley ascended, it occurred to him that Shaw would not be able to resist coming back to try to recover Deon. Shirley would have been content to leave the body where it was, but Shaw was a man who dived to expand the limits of the possible. He had just hit a record depth on a rebreather, and now he had the opportunity to return a dead boy to his parents and, in the process, do something equally stunning: make the deepest body recovery in the history of diving.
“Dave felt very connected with Deon,” Shirley says. “He had found him, so it was like a personal thing that he should bring him back.”
When Shaw finally surfaced in the late-afternoon African sun, he removed his mask and said, “I want to try to take him out….”