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July 2004 Vol. 19, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Dangers and Thrills of Deep Wreck Diving

from the July, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Two years ago, Kevin F. McMurray wrote the chilling Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria. His latest book, Dark Descent: Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland, recounts diving adventures on another huge ship, which consigned 1,012 souls to the frigid depths in 1914 after a collision in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Dangers and Thrills of Deep Wreck DivingAward-winning journalist Murray chronicles the history of the 548-foot ocean liner up to the fog-shrouded night when it was struck and split open by the Storstad, a 440-foot Norwegian transport.

The first divers to visit the Empress were commercial hard-hats. One of them, Edward Cossaboom, became the ship's first diving fatality when he lost his footing on the hull at 75 feet and plummeted to 140 feet. Cossaboom's sudden plunge created a deadly differential between his air supply and the ambient water pressure. "By the time he hit the bottom," writes McMurray, "the invading sea pressure had stripped the flesh from his bones. His skin and organs were pile-driven into the only part of his suit that was resistant to the pressure, his copper diving helmet."

For us divers, the meat of the book is the latter-day explorations of the wreck by adventurous sport and tech divers. The book takes readers down 150 feet to discover the controversies of the ship's last night and subsequent salvage attempts. McMurray describes today's colorful and obsessive wreck divers and their hairy exploits, while discussing the evolution of tech diving, including the introduction of penetration lines to help divers retrace their steps. Students of wreck diving lore will recognize the names of luminaries like Bernie Chowdhury and Gary Gentile of Andrea Doria fame. One episode recounts the "most harrowing dive" of Gentile's thrill-packed career.

McMurray writes with meticulous detail, even about the turf wars between various factions over the right to retrieve and keep artifacts from the ship. You can order the book by going to Undercurrent and clicking on "Books." You can also find plenty of other diver reading on our website, at the lowest prices anywhere. The profit from any purchase through the Undercurrent website is shared with the Coral Reef Alliance. [Hardcover, 270 pages, current price $16.67].

P.S.: Alp-Maritime Sports is a Quebec dive operator that offers tech diving courses and regularly scheduled expeditions to the ship (www.technicaldivingops.com/pages/expeditions.html).

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