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DRAMA IN THE ABYSS


In October of 2004, Australian cave diver DAVID SHAW set a new world depth record for rebreather diving, plunging to 271 MFW in the famous South African cave Boesmansgat, breaking the previous record of 223 MSW established in the Red Sea in 2003 by Safaga ORCA dive club's Volker and his team.
During the record breaking dive, SHAW (50 years old) came across the remains of a diver which were believed to be those of a 20 year old South African diver Deon Dreyer who had failed to return from a deep cave dive some ten years ago. Fate had it that SHAW would lose his own life some three months later as he tried to recover the remains of Dreyer.

Details of this drama follow as reported from South Africa:


Dave Shaw

Cave diver Dave Shaw died attempting to recover the remains of fellow diver Deon Dreyer.
BOESMANSGAT, South Africa (13 Jan 2005). Footage captured by a camera mounted on the helmet of ace cave diver Dave Shaw shows the dramatic final moments of what happened during his doomed mission.
He died just 26 minutes into the dive.

 

The story of a dive that went horribly wrong has had many twists. The latest of them is the surprise surfacing of the bodies of two divers: one, Deon Dreyer, who died there 10 years ago and the other, Shaw, who died on Saturday in a bid to retrieve Dreyer's remains. Gordon Hiles, a TV cameraman and scuba diver who was filming Saturday's dive mission for a documentary and who designed the camera, today described Shaw's final moments after watching the footage.

The dive mission entailed Shaw descending to the bottom along a shot line, a line from the surface to the bottom to which tanks containing extra air are attached at several points.
"Dave gets to the bottom and moves towards Deon's body and pulls out the specially made body bag. He goes through the activity of getting the bag tround the body. There's a bit of silt which blocks the view for a while. Then you see Dave turning the body. He realizes the tanks are not jammed so he attempts to get the bag over the tanks as well. Then at that point there's no activity. Then Dave goes back to the shot line to start his ascent.

"But then exactly 26 minutes into the dive all activity stops, as well as his breathing. Nothing specific shows what kind of problem he was having, but the footage will be viewed by experts."
Yesterday, the bodies floated to the top of the cave together, on a cave line left underwater in October after Shaw found Dreyer. The bodies were found at 20m in the freshwater cave. Shaw was stuck against the roof and Dreyer's remains were dangling below, suspended by the entangled cave line. They were dislodged during an attempt by divers Peter Herbst and Petrus Roux, who had returned to Boesmansgat, near Danielskuil in the Northern Cape, to recover dive tanks left attached to the shot line.

"On the tape you can hear Dave breathing harder and harder and harder, then silence," said Herbst. A few minutes after surfacing on October 28, Shaw told Dreyer's parents he would try his best to retrieve the body - and bring closure after their son's death. "He looked me in the eye and told me he would do his best to fetch my son," Theo Dreyer said.

A carefully worked-out plan would see Shaw, a 50-year-old Australian pilot; roll a body bag over Dreyer, up to his waist. He would then cut him free from his harness, and continue to unroll the body bag. Shaw would have had just five minutes to complete this task before coming up to meet his backup, Don Shirley, waiting at 220m.

But Shaw never arrived. Police and cave divers will now examine the footage and experts will examine Shaw's equipment to try to work out exactly what happened. Shaw's diving team is hoping the video might solve the riddle of what went wrong in the cave.

Herbst said he and Roux went down to 100m and inflated a buoy with air. According to Gareth Lowndes, of the Wits Underwater Club, this would have caused the buoy to rocket to the surface, and in turn cause the main shot line and everything attached to it to rise. Shaw had attached Dreyer to a cave line tied to the main shot line when he stumbled upon his remains.

Yesterday, as the buoy inflated, the air in Shaw's body would have expanded, causing it to rise faster to the surface. When Herbst was at about 36m, one of the police divers at 20m flashed his torch at him. But he was too deep to understand the message. "When I surfaced half-an-hour later, the officer told me he'd seen the bodies floating behind us. We went back and fetched them."

Shirley, who nearly lost his life in the fatal bid to recover Dreyer's remains, said last night the news had brought some relief to a very sad event. "He died a noble death, if there is such a thing. We know that Dave worked to the end. "He tried his best. I'm very proud of him," Shirley said.

News update: It was later reported that the cause of death following a post mortem was excessive buildup of CO2.

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