Raising the Dead: A True Story of Death and Survival
A true story of death and survival in the world's most dangerous sport, cave diving. Two friends plunge 900 ft deep into the water of the Komali Springs in South Africa, to raise the body of a diver who had perished there a decade before. Only one returns. Unquenchable heroism and complex human relationships amid the perils of extreme sport. On New Year's Day, 2005, David Shaw travelled halfway around the world on a journey that took him to a steep crater in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, a site known locally as Boesmansgat: Bushman's Hole. His destination was nearly 900 feet below the surface. On 8 January, he stepped into the water. He wore and carried on him some of the most advanced diving equipment ever developed. Mounted to a helmet on his head was a video camera. David Shaw was about to attempt what had never been done before, and he wanted the world to see. He descended. About fifteen feet below the surface was a fissure in the dolomite bottom of the basin, barely wide enough to admit him and his equipment and the aluminum tanks slung under his shoulders. He slipped through the opening, and disappeared from sight, leaving behind the world of light and life. Then, a second diver descended through the same crack in the stone. This was Don Shirley, Shaw's friend and frequent dive partner, one of the few people in the world qualified to follow where Shaw was about to go. In the community of extreme diving, Don Shirley was a master among masters. Twenty-five minutes later, one of the men was dead. The other was in mortal peril, and would spend the next 10 hours struggling to survive, existing literally from breath to breath. What happened that day at Bushman's Hole is the stuff of nightmarish drama, juxtaposing classic elements of suspense with an extreme environment beyond most people's comprehension. But it's also a compelling human story of friendship, heroism, unswerving ambition and of coming to terms with loss and tragedy.
complicate decompression and can even become life-threatening. There are drawbacks. Electronics can fail, and although divers can operate the machine manually, the procedure is tedious and demanding; in essence, a diver on a closed-circuit rebreather is staking his life on a system powered by batteries and immersed in deep water at high ambient pressure. Also, the chemical scrubber can be used for only three to eight hours, depending on the size of the canister. When it begins to fail, CO2
pushing his legs down and raising his shoulders above the horizontal. ‘Too unwieldy. Fighting to stay horizontal,’ he wrote on his last day in Puerto Galera. ‘This rig is a failure.’ Then he was back to Komati Springs, from a quick series of ‘drive and dive’ visits, one or two days, each time diving solo to the sixth level, 67 metres. 29 May–66 metres, duration 1:29 solo 30 May–67 metres, 1:24 solo 19 June–67 metres, 2:32 solo 19 July–67 metres, 1:22 solo On the morning of 20
The descent to 250 metres had increased his decompression dues–by how much he didn’t yet know. He found that one of his two VR3 dive computers had flooded. But the backup unit was still operating and showed a deco time of more than eleven and a half hours to the surface. Shirley carried a thick set of slates with half a dozen plans tailored for different depths and bottom times, based on schedules that he and Shaw had worked out in October. Each plan occupied two slates, and flipping through
place between Shaw’s lips. Gordon Hiles stood a few feet away, videotaping. At one point he swung the camera to the housing on top of the hel met. He zoomed in on the circular lens window, looking for signs of water inside the housing. He saw none. When all the other equipment had been removed, Herbst cut the helmet strap and pulled the helmet from Shaw’s head. Hiles spoke up: he said that the housing and the camera were his property and that only he should open it. While Shaw’s body was zipped
grasslands of the Komati valley, and he would think about the cool dark depths of the mine a few kilometres away. He knew that that was his true element, and he wondered whether he would ever be back there, doing what meant most to him. About four months after the accident, he decided to find out. It was a weekend, and Peter Herbst and Lo Vingerling were visiting Komati Springs from Pretoria and Johannesburg. Shirley pulled on the drysuit that he had last worn at Bushman’s. He strapped on a twin