09 January 2005

Aussie cave diver disappears

Boesmangat, Northern Cape - Police said on Saturday afternoon there was little chance of an Australian diver returning from the depths of the world's third deepest freshwater cave, where an operation to recover the remains of another diver has been called off.

When asked if there was a chance of Dave Shaw resurfacing from the depths of Boesmansgat, police diver Inspector Theo van Eeden shook his head and said: "Hy's weg (He's gone)."

Van Eeden had been waiting for Deon Dreyer's body to be passed up to him at 20m.

Shaw disappeared at 270m where he was supposed to secure the body and relay it past fellow divers to get it to the surface.

When he failed to return to his team-mate Don Shirley, waiting at 220m, Shirley descended to 250m to look for him.

He communicated to the surface through messages written on slates passed up a rope that Shaw's light had disappeared.

Vomiting and disorientated - symptoms of decompression illness - Shirley was forced to start a slow ascent on Saturday afternoon. At the surface he will immediately be placed in a recompression chamber.

By mid-afternoon Shirley was the only one of eight divers remaining in the water.

On October 28 last year, Shaw found Dreyer's remains at a depth of almost 270m.

Cylinders stuck in the mud

He was unable to take the body to the surface as Dreyer's cylinders were stuck in the mud.

In the past week, the diving team staged a "dress rehearsal" at the cave for Saturday's body recovery attempt.

This follows four weeks of preparing for what Don Shirley, the team's technical coordinator, described as a "small military operation".

Meanwhile Van Eeden said that in his 36 years as a diver, this was the first diving accident he had been associated with.

Shaw, an airline pilot for Cathay Pacific, has a wife and two children in Australia.

"I said from the beginning that you can't do work at that depth. This is a terrible story. It feels like I am dreaming," Van Eeden said.

When asked for a possible explanation for Shaw's disappearance, Van Eeden shook his head and said: "His rebreather should have packed up ... only he will know".

Rebreathers allow divers to stay under water for longer periods.

The divers involved are all "technical divers" and members of the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers.

Technical diving is an advanced form of scuba diving and uses special methods and equipment to explore environments and perform tasks beyond the range of recreational diving.


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