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March 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Two Deaths at One of Indonesia’s Most Dangerous Dive Sites

from the March, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The small island of Nusa Lembongam is 12 miles east of the Bali capital of Denpasar. It's a popular destination among divers who come to see mola molas, the giant sunfish that populate the area. But Nusa Lembongam, and especially its dive sites in Crystal Bay, is notorious for the sudden arrival of strong downward currents, so it's really only suited for experienced divers (Crystal Bay was closed temporarily in August 2012 after two divers died in separate incidents during the same week). Dave Eagleray, Undercurrent's webmaster who lives in Bali, says, "It's an extremely dangerous dive area, with rip-roaring currents at times. One time I dove there and, though enjoyable, I did lots of tumbles in the current and wound up separated from my buddy by more than a mile."

Sadly, a group of seven female Japanese divers, who chartered a dive boat for Crystal Bay on Valentine's Bay, learned that the hard way, as they were carried away during rainy, choppy conditions, and only five survived. They were listed as "very experienced" divers by The Guardian newspaper in London because they had "made more than 50 dives each." As Undercurrent readers know, 50-plus dives often aren't enough to withstand the full brunt of diving conditions at their worst.

Strong winds and heavy rains hit Crystal Bay while the group, five divers and two divemasters who ranged in age from 20s to 50s, was making an afternoon dive. The Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun quoted the boat's skipper as saying he had followed the divers for about 20 minutes after they left the boat before a sudden downpour made it impossible to keep track of them. He said he spent an hour searching for them after they failed to resurface at an agreed location. However, Didi Hamzar, the head of Bali province's search and rescue, challenged that account, telling reporters he had information suggesting that the skipper had left the area to refuel before heading to the agreed meeting spot.

After three days of search-and-rescue efforts, four of the divers were spotted on a rocky outcrop off the island of Nusa Penida, southeast of Bali and almost 19 miles from where they started their dive. The group survived by drinking from coconuts after a sudden storm turned the sea into a violent whirlpool. Saori Furukawa, a 37-year-old Bali-based divemaster, told the Guardian that the weather had been "serene" at the start of the day, with nearly no waves. But without warning, heavy rain fell, and the strong winds dramatically reduced visibility. "The surface of the sea started to spin like a washing machine and all of us spun around together, hand in hand," she said.

The five divers survived the first night in the ocean by drinking from passing coconuts and keeping each other awake. They later clambered onto rocks after drifting "for a long time." The next day, Furukawa left the group to try to intercept a passing tugboat, but was unable to get close. "The current was running in the opposite direction from the current where the rest of our group was, so I was swept further away from them." She survived another two days at sea by drinking rainwater before a search-and-rescue team spotted her. The other four divers were found by local fishermen.

They were rescued soon after the body of one of the other divers, 59-year-old Ritsuko Miyata, was recovered from the sea off Bali's Serangan area after being discovered by swimmers. Her husband could only identify her by her wedding ring. The search for the last missing diver, 35-year-old dive instructor Shoko Takahashi, was called off a week after the Japanese divers set out on their fateful trip to Crystal Bay.

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