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Diving into Darkness -- A True Story of Death and Survival

by Phillip Finch
Hardcover 2008 St. Martin's Press, 310 pages
ISBN 978-0-312-38394-7
9.5 x 6.5

Diving into Darkness is the story behind the fatal body recovery attempt conducted by the Australian diver David Shaw at Boesmansgat, or Bushman's Hole, in South Africa in January of 2005. This is a thriller, but one where we know the ending. David Shaw died at the almost incredible depth of around 900 feet while trying to recover the body of Deion Dreyer, a young diver who had perished in the massive sinkhole a decade earlier. The mission, which Shaw attempted with Don Shirley as his primary support diver, is well documented and you can see the video Shaw took during his last dive on YouTube.

Author Phillip Finch neither knew Shaw nor was he part of the well-publicized expedition, but the Kansas-based journalist, who is a cave diver himself, managed to create a spell-binding, riveting account of how David's Shaw's passion for extreme diving led to an almost inevitable conclusion.

Unlike most in the small community of extreme divers, David Shaw did not have thousands of dives and decades of experience under his belt when he attempted the complex recovery at near record depth. He was a commercial pilot with Cathay Pacific Airlines who had started in crop duster and charter planes and then worked his way up to ever more complex machinery. It wasn't until 1999, at age 45, that Shaw took up scuba, but once he did, he progressed to Nitrox, decompression dives, wreck diving, cave diving, trimix and rebreather certifications at near record speed.

Rebreather training got him in contact with Don Shirley, an widely renowned instructor and "rebreather evangelist" in South Africa. The book examines the relationship between the laid back and easy going Shirley and the goal-oriented, methodical and driven Shaw whose experience as an airliner captain allowed him to efficiently absorb vast amounts of technical knowledge and calmly follow complex procedures under the most trying circumstances.

Finch relates Shaw's rapid progression from novice diver to descending to the bottom of Boesmansgat, a sinkhole whose bottom at 900+ feet had caused problems to such diving legends as Sheck Exley and Nuno Gomes. Both had survived their own attempts, but not without problems. And none had gone as deep as David Shaw on a rebreather, a complex and at times finicky apparatus that recycles breathing gasses with the help of sensors, computers, and chemistry. When he finds the body of Deion Dreyer, he attempts a recovery on the spot, but the body is stuck and Shaw decides to return for it on another dive.

The book introduces Shaw's wife of 30 years who accepts her husband's dangerous passions but is not part of it. We also get to know friends and fellow divers, and the parents of the dead diver whose body Shaw wants to recover in what ends up becoming a well publicized media event. Don Shirley takes an increasingly important role and finally a central one when he gets in near fatal trouble himself while working his way up from the depths of the massive sinkhole.

The risks Shaw engaged in were considerable. "A career of 333 dives from the deep end of a swimming pool to an attempted body recovery at the bottom of Bushman's Hole is an arc of almost unimaginable steepness," observes Finch. Yet Shaw clearly knew what he was doing, and Finch chronicles Shaw's path as a methodical, deliberate and eminently competent advance rather than daredevil imprudence.

Finch also relates the somber aftermath in heart-wrenching detail -- Shaw's wife's despair and depression, Don Shirley's slow recovery from a debilitating case of the bends, and finally Shirley's advice to novice divers and the eulogy of David Shaw's daughter, Lisa.

Diving into Darkness is a beautifully crafted book, thrilling to read, and written in an engaging style and pace. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com

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Caverns Measureless to Man
Complete Diving Manual
Deep Descent
Diver Down
Diving into Darkness
Diving Science
Diving with Sharks
Dragon Sea
Eyewitness: Scuba Diving
Fatal Depth
Fatally Flawed
Hiding on the Bottom
Into the Deepest and Darkest
Neutral Buoyancy
No Safe Harbor
Ocean Gladiator
Scuba Diving for Dummies
Sea Salt
Setting the Hook
Shadow Divers
Shipwreck Hunter
The Blue Edge
The Cavern Kings
The Devil's Teeth
The Last Dive
The Silent World
Yucatan Deep
Web Scuba Diver
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