Durban - “F*** off.” These were the last words spoken by experienced diver Peter Timm as he pushed rescuers out of the way and attempted to resuscitate his dying diving partner – seconds before he collapsed and died, possibly from the “bends”.
Timm, 51, was one of three divers reportedly hired by Ezemvelo Wildlife and the SA Association for Marine Biological Research to recover a piece of technical equipment that had fallen off a research vessel near the Aliwal Shoal, off eMkhomazi, last week.
Timm had been diving with technical diver Adele Stegen, 45, and another, unidentified, diver. The third diver had apparently stayed on the boat.
Timm was well known as part of the diving team that discovered the presence of coelacanth at Sodwana Bay in Maputaland in 2000.
Netcare 911 spokeswoman Santi Steinmann said paramedics responded to the accident at noon on Wednesday.
“Upon their arrival, they found that a man and woman had lost their lives following the incident.
“Despite all efforts to resuscitate both patients, there was nothing paramedics could do for them,” she said.
The atmosphere was sombre at Aliwal Shoal as police, search-and-rescue personnel and paramedics attended the scene.
An eThekwini municipality lifeguard bakkie had to be used to retrieve the bodies from the beach as the morgue van could not drive on the beach sand.
Carol Oosthuizen, the part-owner of Blue Ocean Resort, which had hired out one of their boats to the divers, said she was still in shock and did not know exactly what had happened.
Speaking to The Mercury at the beach, a distraught Oosthuizen said: “There’s a research vessel offshore doing research. They lost part of their equipment; they contacted us over the weekend and asked if we’d have a boat available on Wednesday for technical divers to come to do a search and recovery.”
She said the technical divers came to fetch the boat and went to the research vessel.
“Exactly what happened, we don’t know. The computers of the two deceased have been given to the police, so we’ll be able to see on the computers exactly what happened,” she said.
“The research vessel phoned me and said there had been an incident and the lady diver had bolted to the surface, and that when she surfaced she was foaming at the mouth. From the research vessel, they put two crewmen on to our dive boat to assist with CPR and then the next diver came up. He was conscious when he came on to the boat but passed away while on the vessel,” she said.
It is believed a number of organisations are involved in the research, including Ezemvelo Wildlife, the Oceanographic Research Institute, the SA National Biodiversity Institute and the SA Maritime Association for Marine Biological Research.
Ezemvelo spokesman Musa Mntambo said they would only comment once they had all the information.
The organisation sent its condolences to the families of the deceased.
Maritime association spokeswoman Ann Kunz said the organisation would only be able to respond with details of the incident on Thursday, when it had established what might have happened.
A source with knowledge about the initial investigations said the divers had been about 60m deep when tragedy struck. With the equipment they were using not yet recovered, the source said, it would not be easy to determine if it was “medical failure, gas toxicity or human error”.
Personnel from the SA Maritime Safety Authority were on the scene but would not comment.
They were doing their own investigations – as was procedure – and could not offer further details.
Police spokesman Jay Naicker said police were investigating two inquest dockets. “Post-mortems will be conducted to determine the cause of death,” he said.