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February 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Strange Case of a Missing Diver in the Caymans

from the February, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Even though 28 people searched for David Byles after he tragically disappeared during a Cayman dive on January 19, police stated that he was extremely unlikely to be found alive. Even though he was diving with a group, and his tank, BCD and an item of clothing were found at the dive site, no one has any idea what happened to him -- his body has not been found.

Byles, 57, of Pinehurst, NC, was diving with Sunset Divers at Barracuda Wall when he disappeared. He was last seen surfacing with his wife and swimming toward the boat, roughly 100 yards away. Keith Sahm, Sunset Divers' general manager, told the Cayman Compass that Byles had shown no signs of distress after reaching the surface. He said Byles' wife thought Byles had boarded the boat ahead of her, and only raised the alarm when she realized it wasn't the case.

When I read this, my journalistic senses started tingling. It's hard to imagine the guy pulling off his gear, given the dive boat wasn't that far away. He's in calm Cayman waters, and there were other divers in the water, especially his wife, so why wasn't he found? I'm reminded of a couple past Undercurrent stories about divers who staged a disappearance; one was found years later relaxing in the Maldives.

To get a level-headed opinion, I asked our Bret Gilliam, who has been hired as an expert witness in 269 diving lawsuits, for his view. Nothing strange about it, he says. "It sounds to me like a fairly typical inexperienced diver panicking on the surface. This manifests in initial stressors usually caused by getting splashed in the face while swimming, interruption of the breathing cycle, failure to inflate BCD, increased panic scenarios . . . then jettisoning gear and attempting to stay on the surface. Frequently, this triggers other idiosyncratic medical events, such as heart attack or stroke. Diver sinks and disappears. Such a scenario is consistent with the victim's age. More divers now die from heart-related incidents than any other single factor. It's an aging demographic, and one that does not have much physical conditioning. Diving is also promoted widely as something for everyone and as you know, the industry tends to influence relatively inexperienced divers to think they are 'advanced' or 'master' divers."

However, Gilliam, too, is surprised that Byles' body never showed up. "There is usually no problem in finding and retrieving it. Unless the body went over the dropoff wall, it would end up prostrate on the bottom. There is little current in that area, and the dive staff should have found him. The average customers for Cayman dive operators are not exactly Navy SEALs. None of this really surprises me except for no one being able to find the body."

So some mystery, at least, still remains . . .

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