This book is about Australian Dave Shaw, and specifically about his attempt to recover the body of a diver from a cave in South Africa. It is a timely book about technical diving and the very current situation where new, and money abundant, divers proceed from non-diver to technical diving in a very short period of time without gaining experience from all aspects of diving. A better name for the book, in my view, would be Confirmation of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution (see my separate article about the death of Dave Shaw).
The author is a diver and this is a well written and researched book, although I think that it is a little uncritical of some of the decisions made by Dave Shaw during his very short diving career.
David Shaw (or Dave as he seems to have been known to most divers) was an Australian who as a 17 year old became a pilot. He started flying crop dusters, aerial sprayers. He lived in South Australia and married young to Ann. They were very religious, with pastors as grandfather and father respectively.
While his wife Ann was pregnant with their first child, he announced "God wants me to be fly with MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship)". They moved to Papua New Guinea where the dare devil flying continued, this time flying in and out of remote mountaintop airfields.
From here they moved to Tanzania, Kenya, London and then back to Australia. In New South Wales, he did more pilot courses and applied for a position with the international airline, Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong. He was successful and Ann and he moved there in about 1989.
In 1996, his son Steven learnt to dive and in 1999 Dave decided to learn as well. From here on the book covers in fairly good detail Shaw's diving, from his Open Water course throught two Nitrox courses within a short period of time.
While Shaw got six weeks leave a year, he tried to spend half with his family and the other half diving. Therefore, most of his diving was done in short bursts with lots of non-diving time in between. In addition, virtually all of his diving was done in clear tropical ocean water or clean calm caves.
As I mentioned earlier, the author is not very critical (really, he makes no adverse comments at all) of Shaw's rapid prgression. For example, in August 2000 he did six dives at Puerto Galera in the Philippines, three to 51 metres and one to 61 metres. This was in three days, meaning that on at least one of the days he did a double dive to over 51 metres. This is very, very dangerous and not something that I would ever contemplate. He had now completed 62 dives. Of these, the majority would have been training dives. There is no comment on the stupidity of this sort of diving.
After this the author charts Shaw's move to cave diving. He went to Florida and did 21 dives in 10 days as part of cave diving courses with Bill Rennaker. Over the next 18 months he went twice to Florida. He then did several trips to the Philippines where he did a trimix course. He had now been diving for less than three years and had been to 100 metres!
In August 2002 Shaw went to South Africa to meet Don Shirley, a diver with well over 20 years experience and recognised as an excellent technical diver and instructor. Shirley owned a dive operation at a place called Komati Springs. This was an old mine that had flooded once it was closed down.
For all his dives in South Africa, it appears that Shaw did very deep and repetitive dives before piloting an Airbus plane full of passengers home to Hong Kong with only a 24 hour break. This is very, very irresponsible.
Shaw did a rebreather course and purchased a rebreather and from April 2003 he did 11 trips to South Africa in the next seven months.
On page 20 there is a statement by the author that "Extreme divers are not thrill seekers". This would have to be one of the most incorrect statements that I have ever read about diving. Every person I have met who does "extreme" diving has been ego driven. There is only one reason someone would dive to extreme depths inside otherwise barren caves and holes, to get a thrill.
I should add that in the book there are a series of explanations of dive equipment and related matters. This is useful for non-divers and inexperienced divers. Things like air consumption at depth, bends, rebreathers, nitrogen narcosis and dive gear is quite well summarized.
The author does include a lot of information about the Inspiration rebreather that Shaw purchased, including how in the two years after they were introduced, only 1000 had been sold but an amazingly large number of divers, eight, had died while using them. By 2003 the number was 15. A very true comment on page 76 states "closed-circuit rebreathers worked too well - they allowed divers to reach depths and run times that were beyond their ability and experience". Another statement is that "Open-circuit meant prudence, rebreathers denoted confidence". I would prefer "over confidence" as a correct statement.
Both these statements seem to me to be true with regard to Dave Shaw (and some other Australian divers who have died or nearly died using rebreathers) but the author does not seem to think this is the case.
From 5 April 2003, Shaw started doing even more dangerous diving and this is very well documented in the book. Problems like on a descent, with his buzzer going off denoting high oxygen levels, Shaw kept going. He ended up going to 69 metres and became alarmed that he did not have enough bailout gas should the rebreather fail.
The author also raises some limitations with the Inspiration rebreather that were known but ignored by Shaw. See the incident page for more details. Shaw flouted the limits and went to 122 metres and 182 metres. The next day he went to 180 metre mark and had to turn around as his control panel had failed and the backup was flashing. He got the master one going by turning it off and on but there was another problem, his buzzer had indeed imploded, so there was no high oxygen warning buzzer. Shaw ended up bent from this dive. Instead of slowing him down, this caused him to buy a Biomarine Mark 15.5 rebreather.
Shaw was now on the road to death and in June 2004 he went to Bushmans Hole in South Africa. On his first dives here he went to 120 metres and dropped off various bailout tanks on the line. He had not been past 121 metres on the new rebreather but on a later dive on this trip he went to 213 metres. So much for gradually increasing your depth and testing out new equipment!
A comment on page 128 just about sums it all up, "depth for depth's sake".
Shaw did not dive for almost four months till October 2004 when he returned to Bushmans Hole. He was support to Verna van Schaik who was aiming to get the record for the deepest dive by a woman. She went to 221 metres.
A few days later, on 28 October 2004, Shaw went to 270 metres in Bushmans where he found the body of Deon Dreyer. Dreyer, was 20 years old on 17 December 1994 when he disappeared from sight when at 60 metres. He probably suffered from an oxygen toxicity hit. This was Shaw's 330th dive. Shaw reported that Dreyer's body was lying on its back, with his tanks stuck in the silt. He attempted to get the body free, but it was stuck hard. Shaw attached his reel to the gear and left it. The other end was tied off to the bottom of the shotline.
The book details what happened from here on and I have summarised it in my other article (see the top of the page).
Anyway, needless to say, Shaw died trying to bring Dreyer's body back to the surface in an accident that should never have happened had Shaw not been so gung-ho and trying to show how good he was by bringing the body up in the method that he proposed.
This is a death that should not have happened. The rapid move from novice diver to "expert" technical diver is typical of what has seemed to be a recent trend (since late 1990s) when technical diving became a "fad". These divers seem to be skipping the routine of doing normal dives and gradually building up their diving experience. As such, they do not get the experience of having minor problems at shallow depths where they can attend to the problem and safely "escape" but which at depth are deadly. They also do not get experience in a range of conditions (note that Shaw had only ever dived in warm tropical calm clear conditions or calm clear caves).
The book is well written and even for non-divers, the explanations should be easy to follow. However, as I mentioned above, I found it non-critical of Shaw and what he did, both in his whole diving career and during the final dive.
Well recommended for all divers. Learn from Dave Shaw's mistakes.