18 May 2005

Australian TV to broadcast David Shaw's last dive

AMONG the dive gear, gas tanks, computers and lights that expert cave diver Dave Shaw carried during his final, fatal, descent, a tiny helmet-mounted camera proved to be the most valuable piece of equipment.

The video camera, contained in a custom-made aluminium housing designed to withstand incredible water pressure, provided investigators with vital clues as to why Mr Shaw perished at the bottom of Bushman's Cave in Northern Cape, South Africa, on January 8.

The remarkable pictures, to be screened for the first time on ABC TV's Australian Story this Monday, show Mr Shaw becoming entangled in a line guiding him to the cave bottom, and fumbling to release himself as the timeframe for his safe return to the surface expired.

An airline pilot by profession, 50-year-old Mr Shaw - who was originally from Perth but had been based in Hong Kong since 1989 - took up scuba diving just seven years ago.

However, with his irrepressible urge to "push the boundaries", he became a world champion in the extreme sport of technical diving, in which divers use rebreathers to recirculate exhaled air at great depths.

While completing a world record 270 metre decent at Bushman's Cave last October, Mr Shaw discovered the remains of a 20-year-old diver, Deon Dreyer, who had drowned there in 1994.

Mr Shaw decided to retrieve the body and return it to Mr Dreyer's parents, requiring a dangerous and complicated mission allowing only five minutes at the bottom of the pitch-black cave and more than 12 hours of decompression before resurfacing.

Accompanied by an expert diving support team including dive partner Don Shirley and underwater cameraman Derek Hughes, an eight-man police dive squad, mine rescue personnel, medical and hyperbaric chamber personnel and film crew, the dive was a massive operation.

Documentary maker Gordon Hiles, whose footage will also be screened on Monday night, arranged for Mr Shaw to record his dive with the helmet camera.

"The plan was about an hour 20, an hour 30 minutes after the start of Dave's dive that Deon's body should be coming to the surface," Mr Hiles told Australian Story.

"Eventually a slate came up from the divers at 150 metes and that stated 'No Don or Dave, only one light below'. So that was the first warning that ... something had gone off plan."

As Mr Shaw's helmet camera later revealed, the father-of-two blacked out and died from carbon dioxide poisoning as he tried to untangle himself from a line attached to Mr Dreyer's body that had unexpectedly gone slack.

Days later, the bodies of both men floated to the surface of Bushman's Cave together.

"In the strangest way Dave actually fulfilled his task of bringing Deon's body to the surface," Mr Hiles said.

The camera attached to Mr Shaw's helmet had survived more than 100 hours underwater at up to 29 atmospheres of pressure and brought to his grieving family and friends the images of his final moments of life.

Wife Ann Shaw told the program she married her teen sweetheart knowing there was a risk "something unexpected might happen and he might not come home".

"Some people would think that what David was doing was dangerous, but I feel that if there weren't people like David then we'd still be driving around in horse and carts," Mrs Shaw said.

"We wouldn't have gone to the moon, we wouldn't have climbed Mt Everest, we wouldn't have had planes to fly if there hadn't been people willing to go beyond the boundaries of human achievement.

"I wouldn't have changed David for anything."

Source: www.underwatertimes.com


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