Durban - A DIVE to the HMS Otus submarine wreck 10km off the coast of Durban ended in tragedy on Wednesday when a female diver died after apparently ascending too quickly.
Annelie Wada, 44, an Australian who had immigrated to South Africa, had just completed a 100m dive to the recently discovered wreck with a group from Calypso Dive and Adventure. According to her Facebook page, it would seem this was to have been her first dive to 100m.
She had reportedly “surfaced at speed and this is believed to have caused a decompression accident”, said the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI) Durban station commander, Clifford Ireland.
It is not known at this stage what might have gone wrong. Diving to deep depths is highly technical and requires advanced skills. Divers spend four minutes going down to that depth, then 12 minutes on the bottom and about 130 minutes coming up in stages to stabilise their bodies.
On Wednesday, Ireland said reports had suggested Wada was conscious on surfacing from the dive but soon lapsed into unconsciousness, not breathing and pulseless.
“Her fellow dive crew had initiated CPR (and placed her on 100 percent oxygen therapy) while raising the alarm and speedily heading towards our sea rescue base at the Port of Durban to rendezvous with the rescue teams,” he said.
The Daily News had first reported on the wreck find in March when Durban deep-sea specialist divers, Patrick Voorma (owner of the Calypso Dive Centre at uShaka Marine World) and Allan Maclean, stumbled across the World War II submarine after searching for it for nine years.
Wada was on the team who went out with Voorma and Maclean on a special second dive to take photographs and video footage of the wreck.
She had completed her 200th dive, which was a 70m one, in August, which also was her qualifying dive for using Tri-mix and a rebreather. In March Voorma had explained that deep diving was difficult and very technical.
“We have to be very precise and highly skilled or we could lose our lives,” said Voorma at the time.
The Daily News had reported on preparations for a dive to such depths. It would start four days before when the team would start mixing and blending a combination of gases called Tri-mix (oxygen, nitrogen and helium).
Voorma had explained that once divers went to such depths they built up nitrogen and helium in their bodies and they had to get rid of these gases before they could safely resurface. Maclean had said coming up too soon would be like taking a can of fizzy soft drink, shaking it and opening it up immediately.
“That is exactly what would happen to us if we came up too soon. We could get an embolism (air bubble) in the brain,” he had said.
However, any number of factors could have contributed to Wada’s death, including a pre-existing medical condition.
The NSRI received the distress call at about 11.26am and Netcare 911 paramedics had started CPR at the base. “But despite extensive efforts to resuscitate the lady, she was declared dead by paramedics,” said Ireland.
He also said Wada was an experienced diver with a full technical “tri-mix” dive qualification.
The NSRI said her family were receiving trauma counselling.
On Thursday morning Voorma said he could not comment as he was on his way to the police station to make a statement. Celeste Voorma, Patrick Voorma’s wife, wrote to her friends on Facebook at about 6pm: “Such a sad day for such a lovely lady.”
Another message, posted by Patrick Voorma - hours before the fatal dive - read: “Ready for another 100 metres today. Conditions are looking great. HMS Otus here we come.”
Wada’s Facebook page:
So tomorrow is the start of “wreck weekend” 60m tomorrow, 70m sat, 85m sun and the 100m sub on Monday. And deep support for the 135m on Tuesday. Although the weather may have other ideas. Holding thumbs!
ooh kay..... 2nd attempt at the 100m submarine tomorrow after the wind and horrible waves got the better of us today... wish us luck my peeps, our first 100m dive, playing with the big boys now, hey, Erich Luckfiel (gulp).
Wind delay on 100m submarine dive so off to Spiga for some yummy lunch as all my 19 guests fed and watered and on their various ways home. No Prosecco (wine) though.