'OK, we are on our emergency plan'
June 17, 2012 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Raising the Dead:'At the bottom of the biggest underwater cave in the world, diving deeper than almost anyone had ever gone, Dave Shaw found the body of a young man who had disappeared ten years earlier. What happened after Shaw promised to go back is nearly unbelievable—unless you believe in ghosts.'
posted by the man of twists and turns (68 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awful story.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:50 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


By which I mean tragic, not poorly written.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:51 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Double I think, but the original link is dead. Amazing story.
posted by brundlefly at 5:58 PM on June 17, 2012


Linked previously here (in comments).
posted by vidur at 5:59 PM on June 17, 2012


The lede appears to be as buried as the aforementioned body.
posted by sciurus at 6:12 PM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't understand the ghosts comment. He attempted a dangerous dive and died, sad but not hard to believe.
posted by PJLandis at 6:22 PM on June 17, 2012 [21 favorites]


So harrowing. If only Shaw hadn't gotten confused at the bottom and played it safe.

What happened after Shaw promised to go back is nearly unbelievable—unless you believe in ghosts.

I'm not seeing what a belief in ghosts has to do with this story.

In the fall of 2002, a bearded man with an Australian twang appeared at Shirley's dive center. "Hi, I'm Dave Shaw," the man said. "Do you mind if I go dive your hole?" Shirley sized up the bluff Aussie and liked what he saw.

This paragraph could have a completely different meaning in a different context.
posted by orange swan at 6:26 PM on June 17, 2012 [34 favorites]


Linked previously here (in comments).

Ah, yeah. I knew I had found that link through MeFi but it was more recent than 2005.
posted by brundlefly at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2012


I think what the writer was trying to say was that (Spoiler) even in death, Shaw managed bring Deon's body back?
posted by KGMoney at 6:53 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Such a tragic story. Had a bit of panic attack getting through that. Is there a name for having a love of being in/on the water yet having an extreme fear of drowning? Tonight I have a feeling that cave my play a role in my dreams.
posted by the_artificer at 6:56 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Telegraph has an article and interview with Done Shirley, Shaw's dive partner.

Deepcave.com, Dave Shaw's personal website

A 40-minute video(Youtube), the Nightline episode.

Potentially NSFW, NSFL: The Last Dive of David Shaw(Youtube), with commentary from his dive partner Don Shirley. This is Shaw's helmet video from his final dive, on which he died.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:57 PM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


So sad, and such a waste. To die diving for a dead body? I hope no one else decides to go down in search of any other remians.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:11 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems that one of the dangers of this sort of thing is that the kind of wilfullness that drives one to attempt dangerous, hard things like recovering Deon's body, is exactly the kind of mental stance that makes backing off at the last moment, when you really should, almost impossible.
posted by fatbird at 7:17 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


.
posted by moshjosh at 7:30 PM on June 17, 2012


I'm not done yet, but had a quick question about this section.

Shirley introduced Shaw to the enticing depths of Bushman's in June 2004. Shaw turned up with his modified Mk15.5 and dived it to 725 feet, another world record for a closed-circuit rebreather in a cave. His DUI drysuit and Thinsulate underwear kept him warm. He peed happily into the water via a valve in his drysuit that had a catheter running to a condom (informally known as "the Urinator"), and topped up, intermittently pulling his regulator out of his mouth, on candy bars and water lowered in a string bag at shallow decompression stops. He fell in love with the place.

This is probably a stupid question. But, tell me he that not all catheters are inserted into the penis. Just tell me catheter means something like "to catch the urine when it fills the bathing suit" and not the horribly scary thing I'm imagining.
posted by scunning at 7:34 PM on June 17, 2012


Comment from the YouTube video link of the dive:

He suffered from an effort-independent expiratory flow which resulted in an inability to match ventilation to the demands of physical work at that great depth. The lines from the body bag appear to have become entangled with the light head, and the physical effort of trying to free himself led to his death. So basically ran out of air.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 PM on June 17, 2012


Nevermind -- I think I see. The catheter goes to the drysuit.
posted by scunning at 7:40 PM on June 17, 2012


I've done a bit of reading on this subject since I'm not too far from a bit of a Mecca with regards to the sport of cave diving and near the home of one of the, late of course and sadly, gurus of the sport Sheck Exley, who is also mentioned in the article the OP posted and also died while attempting a dive to the bottom of the world's deepest sinkhole.

It's worth mentioning that, and someone here can correct me if I misstate this, these guys are NOT just doing a dive that requires the nerve, basic SCUBA skills, and a dash of crazy to match. As stated in the article,

breathing deep-dive gas mixes—usually a combination of helium, nitrogen, and oxygen known as trimix—at extreme underwater pressure can kill you in any number of ways. For example, at depth, oxygen can become toxic, and nitrogen acts like a narcotic—the deeper you go, the stupider you get. Divers compare narcosis to drinking martinis on an empty stomach, and, depending on the gas mix you're using, at 800-plus feet you can feel like you've downed at least four or five of them all at once. Helium is no better; it can send you into nervous, twitching fits.

They're basically doing some pretty hefty figuring and adjusting and calculating, perhaps assisted by a dive computer but also making adjustments as needed based upon the situation at hand... while experiencing the buzz of 5 martinis at any given moment.

The fact that they are also the only ones that can take out the bodies of their fallen compadres means that they seemed, to me at least, to have a very strong belief in the practice and principle of "Leave no trace". That means not peeing and contaminating the locale that's potentially very delicate as well as fishing out the bodies of others who have died [link to newspaper article is heartbreaking and is potentially NSFL] in the caves. So while it may seem silly for this man to die in the act of recovering the body of another person who died there, it should be noted that he died doing something he loved while also trying to take the remains of a diver A) out of a delicate and as-remote-as-you-can-get location and B) back to the diver's family.

.

Full Disclosure: Scuba sounds fun to me, cave diving sounds terrifying beyond all belief and I'll never even come close to trying it myself.

posted by RolandOfEld at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is something about underwater stories - this, parts of Shadow Divers, pictures of underwater shipwrecks (particularly submarines) - that creep the ever-loving hell out of me. I don't know why, but they do. Still, a good read.

A friend of mine did a bunch of cave diving with a rebreather in FL. Crazy stuff.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:12 PM on June 17, 2012


.
posted by scunning at 8:20 PM on June 17, 2012


Great read thanks...
posted by schyler523 at 8:21 PM on June 17, 2012


From the wiki page for Sheck Exley's body recovery, where he seemed to have wrapped (in a particular fashion I think) the descent line around the valves of his own air tanks:

Bowden and other experts have theorized that Exley may have done this in anticipation of his own death to prevent any dangerous body recovery operations.

Haters can snipe away at these folks all they want... but anyone that can do that sort of thing... man... it just leaves me speechless. Maybe that's not what happened, but maybe it was. The people in this sport don't live long enough to get articles and wiki pages written about them if they're stupid or needlessly brave.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:23 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


previously on MeFi: RIP Agnes Milowka, cave diver.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:30 PM on June 17, 2012


I'm thinking the "—unless you believe in ghosts." line was meant to keep you reading, giving you a little hope that maybe Shaw didn't drown alone, in complete darkness at the bottom of a flooded cave wrestling with a corpse; I was waiting for the miraculous survival almost to the end. The story was horrific enough in it's own right without the fake-out.
posted by PJLandis at 8:33 PM on June 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


The StationR article on Sheck Exley has a bit about the '05 dive on Bushman's Hole, with some clarification:

"The almost spooky end to the story is that four days later, after the emergency tanks had been recovered and the lines pulled, Shaw's body floated up from the darkness with Dreyer in tow, making good on his promise to bring him home."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:45 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is something about underwater stories - this, parts of Shadow Divers, pictures of underwater shipwrecks (particularly submarines) - that creep the ever-loving hell out of me.

Then you'd better not ever watch — or read the plot of — the The Thirty-Fathom Grave, a 1963 Twilight Zone episode (SLYT intro with Rod Serling).
posted by cenoxo at 9:32 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I saw this Nova special on cave diving awhile back, which gave me tremendous respect for these divers and all of the potential new scientific discoveries available in deep hole diving. The show briefly discussed the use of rebreathers and the risks of using that technology, but I had no idea until I read this article how small the margin of error is in this type of extreme exploration; the tiniest mistakes clearly have lethal consequences.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:39 PM on June 17, 2012


Good article, I kept hoping to the end that he'd make it.

.
posted by arcticseal at 9:50 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a nerve-wracking story. And so heartbreaking -- like others, I kept reading, thinking for sure their "Dave not coming back" would be proven wrong and he'd have somehow made it back.
posted by emcat8 at 10:47 PM on June 17, 2012


MESSAGE FROM ANDRE, I LOVE YOU, it read, and then, YOU'D BETTER HANG IN THERE OR ELSE.

Oh. I can't even imagine.
posted by mochapickle at 10:54 PM on June 17, 2012


I watched the YouTube video linked above of Dave's last dive, narrated by Don Shirley; because they were talking about the twelve hour process of working their way back up, the thing I didn't really get from reading the article is how quickly the descent and the accident occurred - all within about ten minutes.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:07 PM on June 17, 2012


tell me he that not all catheters are inserted into the penis.

There is such a thing as a Texas catheter, or condom cath, it goes on the penis just like a condom and has a tube that comes off of it.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2012


Yeah, I've got a female friend who does a lot of drysuit diving and she says the most annoying part is there's no female equivalent to a condom catheter so once she's in she can't pee till the boat's back. Meanwhile the guys are draining their pee valves whenever they want.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 11:12 PM on June 17, 2012


SuzySmith: There is such a thing as a Texas catheter, or condom cath, it goes on the penis just like a condom and has a tube that comes off of it.

Given how unpleasant the other kind are reputed to be, why are these not used a majority of the time? Seems like they should work, unless the person is unconscious.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:18 PM on June 17, 2012


In a hospital setting, I mean.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:18 PM on June 17, 2012


I read the whole story waiting for that ghost right to the end. Is it really necessary to be overly mysterious?
posted by blue shadows at 11:24 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr - a conscious, cooperative, continent male who isn't in a spacesuit or drysuit doesn't need an external cath, because he can use a urinal bottle. External catheters generally aren't used for long stretches of time because they're thick impermeable rubber, so they make the patient sweat. The necessary adhesive catches hair and pinches. The slight constant change of dimensions of the penis with temperature and position also makes the cath uncomfortable, and sometimes causes the condom to unroll unexpectedly, which results in a bedful of pee (and if the tube falls to the floor and takes the bag with it, sometimes a floorful of pee.)
posted by gingerest at 11:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok, derail time about catheters: condom drainage can be used longterm and often is with quadriplegics when they're in hospital (dunno what they do at home). We'll use them for drunk people as well.

Most of the time though if you're needing a catheter in hospital it's because you either are having trouble peeing or because we need to know exactly how much urine you're producing. Either way, having a tube that goes directly into the bladder is what's required.

Urology lesson over!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 11:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Great story, but horribly over-written in the most cliched American magazine style, wrote 57-year-old alloneword, a man who had spent year plumbing the foul depths of bad taste.
posted by alloneword at 11:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed it also, but the style was overwrought, and that dumb mention of ghosts really detracted from the story.
posted by milkwood at 11:54 PM on June 17, 2012


The almost spooky end to the story is that four days later, after the emergency tanks had been recovered and the lines pulled, Shaw's body floated up from the darkness with Dreyer in tow, making good on his promise to bring him home.

Almost spooky? No, that's spooky (eerie, scary). One body returning with the other body ("skeletonized" head and hands but squishy in the suit) in tow as if fulfilling a promise is at least 80 percent spooky with a large dollop of ooky.
posted by pracowity at 12:00 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great story. Shame about the stupid "...unless you believe in ghosts" bullshit.
posted by Decani at 12:45 AM on June 18, 2012


Very difficult to read (and, indeed, not because it's poorly written).
posted by dickasso at 12:52 AM on June 18, 2012


So was the ghost bit was when the first guy's dead head floated in front of the second guy, his body started floating around, and then he snagged the second guy's light and drowned him, moaning 'ONE OF US'?

Because otherwise, no ghosts.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:34 AM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you do diving rescue training, one the things that teach you is that you, the rescuer should avoid becoming a victim. That is an extreme example, as they were rescueing a dead body.
posted by samelborp at 1:40 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Needs more underwater rescue robots.
posted by pracowity at 2:50 AM on June 18, 2012


Aside from the dangers of getting trapped or lost, breathing deep-dive gas mixes—usually a combination of helium, nitrogen, and oxygen known as trimix—at extreme underwater pressure can kill you in any number of ways. For example, at depth, oxygen can become toxic, and nitrogen acts like a narcotic—the deeper you go, the stupider you get. Divers compare narcosis to drinking martinis on an empty stomach, and, depending on the gas mix you're using, at 800-plus feet you can feel like you've downed at least four or five of them all at once. Helium is no better; it can send you into nervous, twitching fits. Then, if you don't breathe slowly and deeply, carbon dioxide can build up in your lungs and you'll black out. And if you ascend too quickly, all the nitrogen and helium that has been forced into your tissues under pressure can fizz into tiny bubbles,

I have an ugly suspicion that information on all of these outcomes - and how to avoid them - was less a matter of predictive science than a long series of trial and error, where every "error" is also a tale of human consequence.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:11 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of the most viscerally affecting stories I've ever read.

It's time for me to bike to work now - through the midst of Boston rush hour traffic - and honestly, for the first time in my life I think I'm just too afraid to do it. I'll take the bus. What an irrational response, huh? Wow.
posted by Cygnet at 4:51 AM on June 18, 2012


Fascinating story, would have appreciated another source without fake ghost linkbait.
posted by corb at 5:45 AM on June 18, 2012


Given the amount of effort the team put into planning the dive it seems a shame that they did not predict that the corpse might have had positive buoyancy - on the basis of these forensic details about the behaviour of corpses in water - I would guess that an expert might have warned them about this.
posted by rongorongo at 5:52 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like Verna van Schaik (the surface marshal) recently wrote a book about her experiences deep diving and how Shaw's dive affected her perspective of the deep diving culture.
posted by bettafish at 5:57 AM on June 18, 2012


Did everyone actually think there were actual ghosts?

how quickly the descent and the accident occurred - all within about ten minutes.

When I dove the Oriskany we went from rolling-over-the-side to standing on the flight deck at ~150 feet in about 90 seconds. The long, slow part is coming back up.

It is very easy to get lost, disoriented, task-focused or task-saturated. Having a dive buddy - someone to watch your back, while you watch theirs - makes the trip much safer. They should have both aborted when the rebreather controlled cracked.

cave diving sounds terrifying beyond all belief and I'll never even come close to trying it myself.

I was in one of the spring systems in Florida yesterday - just keeping my hand in, as diving is a perishable skill. We didn't have lights, so we stuck to the cavern (cavern is teh area still bathed in natural light, cave is where the natural light stops). At the entrance to the cave system, about 55 feet down, was a sign.

The sign had a picture of the Grim Reaper and said STOP: PREVENT YOUR DEATH. GO NO FURTHER.

I tend to agree with the sign, 'THERE IS NOTHING IN THIS CAVE WORTH DYING FOR.'

Now, wrecks, on the other hand...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:54 AM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


What a nerve-wracking story. And so heartbreaking -- like others, I kept reading, thinking for sure their "Dave not coming back" would be proven wrong and he'd have somehow made it back.

I could tell from the beginning that Dave Shaw wasn't going to survive the dive because there weren't any direct quotes from him as there were from everyone else.
posted by orange swan at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Derail: So I'm guessing cavern diving, barring any moderate/really tight spaces of course, is basically no more dangerous than basic diving then? And that sign is spot on. I've seen the aboveground one like it before as well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2012


This was a really haunting piece. Thank you.

And, the man of twists and turns, the (pretty darn scary) image of that sign popped up in my mind unbidden. It's 1 am here, and I think I'm just gonna keep my eyes wide open and my back firmly planted to solid things for a while yet...
posted by undue influence at 10:19 AM on June 18, 2012


Is it odd that I finished reading this piece thinking I hoped I'd get a chance to try diving sometime, because it sounds cool?
posted by orange swan at 10:26 AM on June 18, 2012


Meanwhile, I personally came to the conclusion that if the secret to longevity and perfect health and happiness could only be reached by cave diving for it then fuck it, one serving of death please.
posted by elizardbits at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it odd that I finished reading this piece thinking I hoped I'd get a chance to try diving sometime, because it sounds cool?

I don't think so, but I'm a wildly enthusiastic (if not yet very seasoned) diver. There are few things that normal civilians can do that are as otherworldly and space-travel-like as scuba diving. (I wrote about this a bit in the opening to this Walrus story.)

I'm way too cautious and non-thrillseeking to ever be interested in ultra-deep dives or even difficult technical cave dives in general, but I can understand the lure - to be in a place that no human being has ever been, explore a depth never before explored, all that. In January, I was diving off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, where the continental shelf drops dramatically away quite close to shore. You come out around the edge of the reef, and thousands of feet of empty water drop away below you. You're suspended there so precariously, with so little to give you any kind of bearing on where you are, that you can't help but wonder at how fragile your life is, how you could simply start down and not stop and eventually . . . well, nothingness. The literal abyss.

Hard to explain why, but it was a sensation I found strangely exhilarating, even life-affirming. That deliberate decision to follow the dive master's fins back up, that sense after the dive that you'd stared into your own mortality and slowly, yawningly chosen not to embrace it.

I've never had a dive that wasn't revelatory in some way. If you're tempted to try it, obviously I'd recommend it.
posted by gompa at 10:39 AM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


what i thought about this unfortunate "ghosts" headline was that either the body would be in a different place when Shaw got down there, or that Shaw was coming back. so i don't get it.

incredible article.
posted by Avenger50 at 12:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. Isn't the ghost business what pracowity mentions above, Shaw bringing the body up near the surface as promised despite dying down below? I don't know, a bit silly alright. Very affecting story. I read Blind Descent (a good book) a while back about deep cavers and cave divers and it had the same impact as reading this article.
posted by jamesonandwater at 1:02 PM on June 18, 2012


The literal abyss

The first time I went out over the shelf I couldn't stop thinking about the yawning terrors rushing up at me. Feeling the current pouring down the reef crevasse into the depths dragging me smoothly and slowly down didn't help one bit.

Nossir. Not one bit.

Still gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Happy little fishies frolicking among bright cheery plants above, perpetual darkness and spiny horror below. Probably some giant eel monstrosity waiting in the shelf to pick me out of the water on my way down with a tidy snap-and-click, leaving the shoggoths all frustrated and impotent, left to fight over the errant fin or dive computer that drifts down to them.
posted by aramaic at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


It seems that one of the dangers of this sort of thing is that the kind of wilfullness that drives one to attempt dangerous, hard things like recovering Deon's body, is exactly the kind of mental stance that makes backing off at the last moment, when you really should, almost impossible.

but that's not what happened here at all, according to this article. you're making it sound like he was taking unnecessary risks. what happened is narcosis:

For example, at depth, oxygen can become toxic, and nitrogen acts like a narcotic—the deeper you go, the stupider you get.
posted by Avenger50 at 2:03 PM on June 18, 2012


What an article. Thanks for this. Outside tends to have a lot of great articles on morbidly fascinating topics...
posted by jnnla at 3:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, I've got a female friend who does a lot of drysuit diving and she says the most annoying part is there's no female equivalent to a condom catheter so once she's in she can't pee till the boat's back. Meanwhile the guys are draining their pee valves whenever they want."

There's always the she-pee which is the equivalent for women. It requires a bit more of a commitment than the p-valve with condom catheter though, since the place where you stick it has to be clean shaven.
posted by coust at 4:28 PM on June 18, 2012


Imagine a remix as a classic ghost story. Set the stakes as the danger of diving at these depths in tight spaces. Then a quick spook with the body of the lost boy. The misgivings of the wife setting a prophetic warning. The hubris and adventure portion where the expert team assembles around the hero. The hero makes a promise to the parents. He dives. Our hero ends up in the cave alone face to face with the body. Tell the horror of his death in great detail, the body that was stuck wrestles with him, pulling him to the same death. Then we wind the audience down with his memorial service and the last rites. Of course one last take remains, pull up the dive tanks and cleanup, hardly worth mentioning. Just as your audience lets out its breath you talk about the bruised, battered body tangled with the skeleton rising up to just below the surface. Then close with some spooky bullshit about other lost ones or the spirit of David Shaw pulling on your dive suit down there.
posted by humanfont at 5:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Read this last night and while I know that it is the typical long form American magazine writing style, I love that style.
posted by josher71 at 5:56 AM on June 19, 2012


.
posted by jann at 3:51 PM on June 19, 2012


The literal abyss

The first time I went out over the shelf I couldn't stop thinking about the yawning terrors rushing up at me. Feeling the current pouring down the reef crevasse into the depths dragging me smoothly and slowly down didn't help one bit.

Nossir. Not one bit.

Still gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Happy little fishies frolicking among bright cheery plants above, perpetual darkness and spiny horror below. Probably some giant eel monstrosity waiting in the shelf to pick me out of the water on my way down with a tidy snap-and-click, leaving the shoggoths all frustrated and impotent, left to fight over the errant fin or dive computer that drifts down to them.
posted by aramaic at 1:58 PM on June 18 [4 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


I have had that same experience in the Caymans. I was at about 20m and went out over the edge of a 1000m walll. Nothing but blue everywhere I looked. I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to sink to the bottom. It was the most uncomfortable I have ever felt diving.
posted by Mr_Zero at 12:52 AM on June 20, 2012


« Older Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Bolaji Badejo, aka...  |  Friendship bracelets! A photo ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments