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January 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Two Deadly Dive Sites

where Americans rarely go, thankfully

from the January, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Recently, the Active Times noted, "there are dives with an added element of danger and mystery so compelling that many will risk their lives for a chance at the challenge." The website listed what it considers the 10 most dangerous scuba dives in the world, including several Florida caves. While we think including Belize's Blue Hole on the list is a wild stretch, two others caught our eye.

Egypt's Blue Hole

Nicknamed the "Diver's Cemetery," the Active Times calls this submarine sinkhole off the Red Sea coast of Dahab, Egypt, the most dangerous scuba site on earth. Originally, it was named the Blue Hole because of the hole through the reef wall to the blue ocean beyond. More recently, thanks to misinformed journalists, the circular lagoon so formed by the reef wall has become known as the Blue Hole. It is incredibly deep. Egyptian authorities (who have a policeman stationed at the Blue Hole to ensure divers are with a certified guide) claim 40 divers have died at this site in the past decade, but many local dive shop operators believe there have been at least twice that many fatalities.

Recreational divers come for a current-free shore dive along a wall, but for daring divers, the big attraction is "The Arch," an 85-foot-long tunnel with a top at 184 feet. Accidents happen when divers try to find the tunnel through the reef connecting the Blue Hole and open water at about 170 feet. The Arch is difficult to detect because of the odd angle between it, the openwater and the Hole itself. And because the Arch continues downward to the seabed, which is beyond view, there is no "reference" from below. Those who miss the tunnel sometimes continue descending, hoping to find the tunnel farther down, and at that depth, they're well under the influence of nitrogen narcosis.

The hole is littered with dive gear, and the nearby beach looks like a graveyard, full of stones commemorating those lost in the hole. Local diver Tarek Omar told Der Spiegel he doesn't know exactly how many bodies he has recovered, but he remembers the first two he pulled up, from 335 feet. "They were holding each other in an embrace. This is how it must have happened: One of them had problems and kept sinking deeper down. The other wanted to help him. And then both of them lost consciousness."

Jonpaul Silvestri, the manager of Poseidon Divers at Blue Hole, says that for sport divers, the Blue Hole is just an exit point for great shallow dives with fish and coral and is of little interest in itself. "Nowadays, it is full of freedivers using it for its 300-foot depths right by the shore; Ahmed Gabr set the record for the deepest scuba dive there [332.35 meters]. The fame of the Blue Hole overshadows these, as everyone has heard of it and feels they must dive there."

John Bantin says, "In my younger days of diving, it was always a challenge to swim through the Arch, from one side of the reef to the other, through the Blue Hole. The roof of The Arch is at the very depth limit for safe diving with air (182 feet) and often divers have got disorientated midway and considered it the surface (thanks to puddles of trapped air) and swum deeper to their deaths. I recall the father of one young woman who died in that way, travelling around the world with her recovered tank, trying to prove it was filled with poisonous air. There was nothing wrong with the air, but, of course, it was poisonous at the depth to which she took it.

"Sadly, the site, although quite benign in that it has no currents or difficult conditions whatsoever, attracts those types of divers who get a kick out of going deep on air, chasing big numbers on their computers, and of consequence many (mainly young) people have died there."

Egyptian authorities are trying to ensure that only technically certified divers (those using helium mixes) do the deep dives, but it is virtually impossible to regulate what divers do once they've entered the water.


Thailand's Military Dumping Ground

Thailand sports another diver's cemetery. Samaesan Hole is the deepest dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, plummeting 280 feet. The hole is in Samaesan Bay, where there are very strong currents, and it's also an inland waterway with heavy daily tanker traffic, with drafts deep as a diver's last three safety stops. Furthermore, there are unexploded bombs littering the seabed in what marine charts list as an "explosives dumping ground." Sunlight rarely reaches the bottom, so formal technical training and proper deep diving equipment should be required.

Steve Burton, technical diving director for Mermaid Divers in Pattaya, Thailand, says he made the first successful dive to the bottom of the "black silty hole of death" in 1998. "It was an unlucky day. All the lights imploded, and three out of the four dive computers, including backups, all failed (permanently) and gave stupid indications of depth or time. This dive site is now used as the 'passing out dive' for local Trimix technical dive students."

--Vanessa Richardson

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