17 December 2004

Deceased diver's parents hoping for closure

In 1994, 20-year-old Deon Dreyer went on a cave-diving expedition.

During the deep-water dive, at Bushman's Cave near Danielskuil in the Northern Cape, the adrenaline junkie blacked out.

Within minutes his body sank 271m to the bottom.

Friday is the 10th anniversary of Deon's disappearance into the watery void.

For a decade his body has been lying in darkness at the bottom of the famous cave.

Deon's parents, Theo and Marie Dreyer, have been desperately trying to recover his body so they can bring some closure to their loss and start healing.

On October 28, when they had just about resigned themselves to never finding their son's remains, Dave Shaw, an Australian pilot and a deep-cave diver who uses a rebreather system (where the gases are recycled) was exploring Bushman's Cave - the world's third-deepest freshwater cave.

That's when he made his grisly discovery.

"As I swept left with my light I saw a body, as plain as day. He was lying on his back, arms in the air and legs outstretched," Shaw said.

Shaw attached his guideline to the diver's remains and ended the dive. When he resurfaced, Shaw met the Dreyers and told them that he would go back and attempt to fetch their son.

"This is a huge dive that has to be very carefully planned, and it is by no means assured that it will result in a successful recovery," Shaw explained this week. "But I will do my best."

Shaw said he lived to explore caves.

"If no one else has been where I am, even better. Depth is by far secondary."

"It is all about exploration, and that's what was so special about the dive in Bushman's Cave."

"At the bottom I was exploring, rather than just reaching the bottom and then starting the ascent. It was because I was exploring that I found Deon's body."

According to the recovery dive's technical co-ordinator, Don Shirley, of the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers, the team - which also includes Dusan Stajokovic, Gerhard du Preez, Lo Vingerling, Mark Andrews, Peter Herbst and Steven Sander - will use closed-circuit rebreather systems when they go down next month.

"The gas we use is only a fraction of that used by conventional divers, which will make the execution of the dive a lot easier," he said.

"At 270m, Dave will use about a litre of gas in a minute whereas a diver using conventional scuba would use about 110 litres in one breath."

Shirley said it would take Shaw 15 minutes to go down to 271m, where they have planned for five minutes, with a contingency plan for an extra minute.

During his bottom time, Shaw will attach a cable to Deon's cylinders and then put a body bag over him. The body will than be passed on to a series of divers who will be spaced out at 50m intervals.

It will take Shaw about 12 hours to come back to the surface - a long process because of decompression.

"Any dive is dangerous, but we have an important job to do for the family," Shirley said.

Since news of the sighting of Deon's body - and it can only be Deon because he is the only diver to have gone missing there - Inspector Theo van Eeden, of Cape Town police's water wing, has been working out some of the logistics.

He knows that there can be no room for error.

"We've got 51 bottles of helium and 18 bottles of oxygen and we've built a pulley system that swivels 360 degrees to help with the recovery," Van Eeden said.

"This is very personal because during the 10 years we've been searching, I've become good friends with the Dreyers."

In his career spanning 34 years he has recovered 792 bodies.

"The other bodies were just bodies, but this is different."

"Helping to bring back Deon means a lot to me, but it will mean so much more to the family. After so long, it will finally bring closure - and they can begin to heal."

In the decade since that fateful expedition, Nuno Gomes, the diver who holds the world record for the deepest cave dive at 282,6m, has also kept his eyes peeled for Deon's body.

Gomes, whose record was made at Bushman's Cave in 1996, said: "I knew that we would one day find it. I'm very relieved."

Theo Dreyer, who will be at the cave with his wife to receive his son's body if the recovery is successful, said he was relieved there was finally a location for Deon's body.

"Now, at last, we can begin to heal."


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