13 January 2005

Cave divers' bodies recovered

The bodies of Australian diver Dave Shaw and South African diver Deon Dreyer were recovered from the world's third deepest freshwater cave, Boesmansgat, in the Northern Cape on Wednesday.

Divers' bodies 'unexpected'
The bodies of Australian diver Dave Shaw and Deon Dreyer were unexpectedly pulled from the depths of Boesmansgat on Wednesday as divers raised equipment attached to a line.

Shaw died on Saturday while trying to recover the body of 20-year-old Dreyer, who drowned in the cave more than 10 years ago.

Police dive commander Ernst Strydom said: "Police divers, helped by technical divers, started recovering the ropes and other equipment from the water this morning (Wednesday) when they saw Dave and Deon's bodies at the cliff beneath the water."

Strydom said the divers had been about 20 to 25m deep when they saw the bodies.

Mom upset she had not been there
Although he was surprised when he was told the news, Deon's father, Theo, said he had half expected it.

When she was told, his wife, Marie, became extremely upset that she had not been at the scene when her son's body was pulled from the water.

The Dreyers had spent the weekend at Boesmansgat in the Northern Cape, but returned home to Gauteng on Sunday.

The Rev Michael Vickers, the Shaw family's minister and spokesperson in Hong Kong where Shaw worked for Cathay Pacific airline, said: "It makes no difference. Shaw is dead."

According to people at Dani´┐Żlskuil, Dreyer's body was tangled in the guideline. Shaw's body was also entangled in it - about 2m higher up. Shaw's diving suit was apparently slightly inflated.

Last year, when he found Dreyer's body at the bottom of the cave, Shaw apparently fastened it to the guideline with a cord.

Shaw's torch, attached to his wrist and to a battery pack by a cable, appeared to have become entangled in the same cord.

At the time he found Dreyer's remains, the dead man's breathing tanks had been embedded in the mud at the bottom.

Shaw planned to cut Dreyer's tank harness away and place his remains in a body bag on Saturday.

Andries van Zyl, owner of Mount Carmel farm where Boesmansgat is situated, said he was relieved.

For him the unexpected retrieval of the bodies was "closure" and the best thing to have happened under the circumstances.

Police diver Theo van Eeden of Cape Town was also involved in the weekend recovery operation.

He said: "It shows you how God works. It was his will. I am very happy. Honestly."

He said the video camera that Shaw had worn on his head would give an indication of what went wrong.

Underwater photographer Derek Hughes said he was still a bit shocked by the news.

People involved in the dive had spoken about the possibility of one or even both bodies floating to the surface in this way.

And then it happened, he said.

Strydom said the bodies would be taken to a local mortuary where post-mortems would be carried out.

Afterwards, Shaw's remains would be sent to his family.

Strydom said Wednesday's operation had been to retrieve cylinders that had been suspended at various depths for the use during the 12-hour decompression phase of Shaw's dive.

Extremely dangerous dive
Shaw's attempt to retrieve Dreyer's body was extremely dangerous. Never before has such a task been tackled at a depth of 267m.

Shaw, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1989, offered to retrieve Dreyer's body after spotting it during a dive on October 28 last year.

On Friday night, Shaw told fellow divers that if anything went wrong, no attempt to retrieve his body should be made and he should be left in Boesmansgat.

Video Footage
Footage from a video camera attached to Shaw's helmet during the doomed dive was viewed by the team of divers and police on Wednesday.

"On the tape you can hear Dave breathing. Harder and harder and harder. Then there's silence," diver Peter Herbst, still in his drysuit after retrieving the bodies, said on Wednesday night.

"It's much too soon to say exactly what went wrong but, from the bit of footage I've just seen, it appears that Dave was working too hard," said Herbst.

"At first it looks like everything was going fine. He'd got to the body and he was working."

"From the footage it appears that Dave's breathing then started to get worse and worse - a sign that he was working too hard," Herbst said.

"It looks as if he ran out of time. It looks like he tried to give up and get out, but he got entangled in the cave line. He kept trying to cut the line, but he couldn't. He was breathing faster and faster."

That was on Saturday - 73 days after he had found Dreyer's body.

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 are hoping the video might solve the riddle of what went wrong in the cave.

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Herbst said he and fellow diver Petrus Roux had gone back into Boesmansgat's waters, near Danielskuil in the Northern Cape, yesterday to retrieve cylinders that had been left in the cave on Saturday.

"Some of the other guys thought there would be a possibility of us finding something, but I didn't think so."

Herbst 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 shotline and everything attached to it to rise.

Shaw had attached Dreyer to a cave line tied to the main shotline when he accidentally stumbled upon his remains on October 28.

On Wednesday, 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."

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