Diving Into Darkness starts off with a glimpse at David Shaw’s fatal last dive, setting the stage for the remainder of the book, which is a build up to this event. Shaw started his scuba diving career at age 45 and then quickly progressed through a multitude of certifications, including cave diving and the use of rebreathers. It was the use of a rebreather that got him in contact with Don Shirley.
Shirley was living in South Africa near a flooded mine system where he could teach advanced dive techniques. The extreme depth of the mine combined with the multitude of paths made a perfect spot for divers to enhance their skills. It was these skills and a mutual passion for the sport that formed a strong friendship between Don Shirley and David Shaw. Over a short period of time, as the two dove together Shaw rapidly gained in both skill level and depths reached.
It wasn’t long before the two went to a location close to where Shirley lived called Bushman’s Hole. This seemingly small pond funnels its way down to a few narrow openings and then opens into a wide cave that drops to nearly 900 feet deep. The cave had been dove many times before including dives by one of the most famous and influential cave divers, Sheck Exley. At these extreme depths there is very little, if any room for error and Finch does an excellent job of relaying this to the reader. Very few divers return from depths even close to this without some kind of injury, if they return at all.
Shaw’s goal was to go to the greatest depths ever achieved on a rebreather, a controversial, computer controlled breathing system. Rebreaters have known issues and Shaw planned on taking his to untested depths. On his first dive to the bottom he stumbled on the body of a previous victim of Bushman’s hole, Deion Dreyer. With amazing calm and clarity of mind for such extreme depths Shaw attempted to recover the body right then, but was unable to pull it from the muddy bottom.
The next portion of the book is the planning and preparation for a second dive to the bottom and an attempt to recover Dreyer’s body. The plan gains attention and quickly draws the spotlight of the media, becoming a large operation. For good and bad, Shaw agrees to wear a helmet mounted video camera to document the recovery. Many divers volunteer to assist in the recovery and provide diving support for Shirley and Shaw.
On that last dive it does not take long for things to go wrong and Bushman’s Hole to extract its price. Shaw reaches the bottom, but when trying to get the body into a bag for removal he gets tangled up in the line. With amazing calmness he tries to extract himself. Don Shirley, diving a few minutes after Shaw reaches a designated point above Shaw and notices that something is wrong. He attempts to reach Shaw but has his control unit for the rebreather implode from the depth and has to begin his ascent, knowing that his friend is not coming back with him.
For more than 10 hours Shirley has to use everything he has to stay alive and reach the surface. He gets badly bent and requires help from the volunteer support divers, which assist to a nearly unbelievable level. Even after reaching the top he struggles with the affects of diving to such extremes and Finch details this well.
Later when divers go back to recover the spare scuba tanks that were left at various levels to be used in emergency they find a morbid surprise. Attached to the shot line were Deion Dreyer’s body as well as David Shaw’s. Still on Shaw’s head was his helmet with the video camera that recorded his entire ordeal. This is where the good and the bad of the helmet camera came in. It was good that they were able to review the footage to better determine what caused the tragic accident. The bad was that the camera itself probably helped lead to Shaw’s death. Because of the camera, Shaw was unable to use his battery back powered light in his usual manner. By letting the light float around in front of his body it ended up getting tangled in the line.
Finch finished up the book by detailing Shaw’s wife’s difficulty dealing with the death of her husband as well as Shirley’s challenges trying to recover from physiological damage caused by the dive. Diving Into Darkness was an excellent book and a fascinating account of one man’s drive to reach unbelievable depths.