What It's Like.... To Search for a Dead Body
By: Chuck Ford
In my heavy vulcanized rubber drysuit, I’m sweating in the heat of an early summer day. As the boat slows I brace myself, and a team member helps with my fins.
Before I enter, I look back toward the shore. I can see the family standing in a cluster, looking out at the search line marking-buoy. They’re looking at me. Under the buoy is one end of my line, which is anchored at both ends and helps me to make a more organized search. Somewhere on the bottom, in this area several acres wide, is the body of a drowning victim. Three of my teammates have moved the line through the search area and the last out carried a boot he found before his air ran low. It’s my turn.
At the buoy I make a final check to clear the gunwale and roll into the water. I grasp the downline lightly and purge, sinking into the green water. Just a couple feet down, visibility is already limited to a few inches and, as I drop feet first, I feel the first thermocline through the drysuit. My fins touch bottom and I kneel in the thick mud feeling for the search line.
After a quick communications check with the guys topside I grasp the line in my right hand, making sweeping passes with my left as I move through the stirred-up darkness. Everything I touch is investigated by feel for relevance. One object I probe wriggles in protest and my hand jerks away reflexively. Old beach chairs and tree branches are moved to the side of the line already covered.
On my fifth pass down the line, or maybe it’s the eighth — time is distorted in the isolation chamber of zero-viz — my hand bumps an object with some weight and give. A quick patdown confirms my suspicion.
Breathing and pulse kick in as I position the body and secure a line around the torso by feel and pump air into my BC. Light penetrates a few feet into the water and, just before I break the surface, I get my first glimpse at the unresponsive companion. The boat starts toward me at my thumbs-up signal.
One of the family members who had gathered near the launch begins wailing when the body bag is handed down to me, and I bag the victim on the side of the boat away from the view of news cameras and onlookers. I decline help getting into the boat and kick toward shore. It’s good to get the locate.
NEXT: What It's Like to Dive to the Deepest Spot on Earth >>>
What It's Like... To Dive to the Deepest Spot on Earth
By: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, 81, as told to Brooke Morton
The boom could have signaled death. The impact shook the deep-diving bathyscaphe Trieste as Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and I reached 30,000 feet — just the beginning of our descent to Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the Mariana Trench off Guam. Only the fact that I realized I’d heard it assured me I was still alive.
Our team had been training for the past seven months. We knew what to do. The instruments confirmed everything was OK. The Plexiglas window that had just cracked under the immense weight — 8 tons per square inch — was not a pressure boundary.
Ours wasn’t a scientific mission, but we knew it would prove invaluable. The vessel had been designed as a radical platform for new research, but before scientists could climb inside, we needed to prove its safety.
We continued on.
The temperature inside dipped to 45 degrees F — only slightly warmer than inside a refrigerator. We were in the perpetual blackness of the abyss, save forthe vessel’s lights. Given our targeted destination, we expected to see things nobody had seen before. We watched jellyfish and translucent invertebrates with light-generating organs dance past the porthole.
Then the bathyscaphe settled on the bottom [around 35,800 feet], releasing a mushroom cloud of white silt. It was as if we were swimming in a bowl of milk. Even after 20 minutes, it never cleared. No photographs of our achievement exist. I wish I could say we had said some profound words, but we just shared a quiet moment.
It has been 52 years since our mission to the deepest point of our planet’s oceans. Ever since, people have been asking me if I was scared or excited that day. I wasn’t. It was simply another day at the office for us, albeit one that required eight hours of unrelenting focus. What we felt was akin to what a pregnant mother feels just after delivery. At the end, every bit of energy had been drained from our bodies, but we had done it.
NEXT: What It's Like to Free Dive to 381 Feet >>>
What It's Like... To Free Dive to 381 Feet
By: Carlos Coste
10:28 a.m. After finishing some warmup dives to 60 feet — to activate my mammalian diving reflex and adapt my mind and body for the upcoming challenge — I float in the water, waiting for the 30-second window to start my dive to a spot 40 floors beneath the surface.
10:29 a.m. The countdown begins and I hear the starter calling out times: 1 minute, 30 seconds, 15, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
10:30 a.m. I take a deep breath and dive.
66 feet My kicking is strong in order to overcome the buoyancy of my body as I descend the first few feet. It’s like trying to sink a big balloon.
80 feet I’ve achieved neutral buoyancy, and descending is easier.
140 feet My kicking rhythm changes to a more gentle pace as I reach negative buoyancy. I’m flying down like a glider into the abyss.
200 feet Narcosis has set in, but I have to stay focused: I’m looking for the maximum relaxation and hydrodynamic position for a fast glide.
297 feet My equalization technique is getting more complicated. At this depth, I’m under 10 atmospheres of pressure. My lungs are tiny and my thorax is filled with blood — known as a blood shift — to tolerate the vacuum.
347 feet An alarm on my dive computer sounds, indicating that I’m just 33 feet away.
381 feet I take the tag indicating that I made it to my intended depth. It’s taken me two minutes to reach half of my goal. I pause for a second; it’s time to go back.
380 feet My first kicks are hard so I can get out of the deepest zone fast. Even though I’m freediving, there’s a lot of nitrogen absorption and the abyss is pulling me down due to my negative buoyancy.
250 feet I’m starting to feel the tiredness in my legs. Lactic acid is punishing my muscles.
180 feet Buoyancy starts to change and I slow my kicking rhythm out of necessity — I’m feeling very tired and I have to manage my energy.
130 feet Emerging from the gloom I meet the safety freedivers, my escort for the remainder of the dive.
100 feet I’m visualizing my successful exit, but can’t get too ahead of myself. Overcoming the neutral buoyancy zone, my kicks become even gentler to save what remaining energy I have.
33 feet I stop kicking and float to the surface.
0 feet I reach the surface and grab a rope — it’s not just so I can steady myself as I suck in a lungful of air, it’s also surface protocol for the judges. After catching my breath, I reflect on my accomplishment: After 3 minutes 51 seconds, and a 761-foot round-trip on a single breath, I have set a new Panamerican record!
NEXT: What It's Like to Lull a Shark to Sleep >>>
What It's Like... To Lull a Shark to Sleep
By: Cristina Zenato
You need the right shark on the right day. I start by sizing up each approach- ing Caribbean reef shark. I offer it a herring while gauging its movements. Is it coming in slowly? Lazily? Does it seem relaxed?
If so, then I reach out. Those that don’t want to cooperate will shake their heads and dart away. But some welcome the attention. Typically, the bigger the animal, the more secure it is. With females, it’s 10 times easier.
Again, the animal has to want it.
If it comes in, I place my hand under its snout and start petting. Soon it will stop moving and sink. Once it has landed on the bottom, I try to become as relaxed as possible. I slow my breath- ing and movements as I ease the animal into a deep trance.
Then the shift happens. You can’t miss it. The shark’s snaky, twitchy movements halt. Now it becomes very still. And it becomes heavier. I can feel more weight on my hands and on my lap.
I’m able to place a shark in this state — called tonic immobility — because of the frecklelike dots on their snouts, called ampullae of Lorenzini. These jelly-filled cups allow them to sense every ounce of electricity in the water. If you’re near them and any of your muscles contracts, they feel it. Because they’re so sensitive, the rubbing overwhelms them. It’s far too much stimulation, and it limits their ability to function.
At this stage, if alone, I could pet it for hours — I love my sharks that much. Sometimes I imagine taking one home and petting it while reading a book on the couch.
But usually a crowd of divers is present, so now I gently lift up the shark by its dorsal fin and bring it around the circle. Each guest gets a chance to pet it and feel the sandpaper skin. If at any point I sense that it is becoming tense or uncomfortable, I lower it back to the sand until calmness returns.
After everyone who wants to has had a moment with the shark, I step back and slowly lift it into a vertical position.
It’s not about strength or power, but rather simply staying in the moment.
The longest time a shark has stayed in this state with me is 30 minutes. To wake her, I just had to let go.
Some sharks jolt out automatically. Some awake when contact stops. Some stay in the trancelike state for a few moments.
I’ve done this thousands of times for audiences. And not as an act of bravado — hardly. I want to inspire people’s curiosity to learn more about sharks and hopefully join the fight to protect these beautiful creatures.
NEXT: What It's Like to Dive as a Double Amputee >>>
What It's Like...To Dive as a Double Amputee
By: Allison Olcsvay
Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott Schroeder was wounded a year and a half ago during a patrol mission while serving in the Zabul province of Afghanistan. He sustained injuries from a roadside bomb that exploded under the vehicle he was riding in, the extent of which required that both legs be amputated above the knee and he lost much of the use of his right arm. Learning to approach life differently following such an injury takes courage and a lot of support. Groups like Task Force Dagger, a non-profit founded in 2009 to support injured Special Forces soldiers, provide opportunities for the whole family to heal. One of their projects brings together recovering soldiers and their families for a week of diving and recreation in Key West, Florida.
“I learned to dive in Egypt, in the Red Sea, back in 1988 on a recreational trip with the military, but I wouldn’t consider myself an avid diver. I’ve only been on maybe 12 dives since then, but I’ve always enjoyed the trips I did take. But even though I dived before, I had to reacquaint myself once I got to the pool. The Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West opened their doors and their pool to us while divers got certified or retrained. They were great to extend such a welcome to us. There was a learning curve to all this, refitting my gear, using my swim legs, even getting on and off the boat there was something to be learned. After everyone got comfortable in the water we headed out for the first open ocean dive.
The injuries to my right arm required me to rig the hoses a little differently, so I could reach everything with my left arm. I also had special sockets for my prosthetics made so I could attach a foot that would work with my fins. Using basic prosthetic technology, they created an articulating joint that I could lock into the toes pointed position necessary for swimming. The upside to this is that finning is really easy now. I thought I’d have difficulty but I was able to fin perfectly. You just have to adapt to what you can do. It’s all part of getting back out there. The part you don’t realize is just how bottom heavy humans are. Without my legs, I had a tendency to flip over in the water, like a fishing bobber. I had to learn to compensate by using my core muscles to hold my position. The effort was exhausting. Every time I dived it completely wiped me out. We were doing two-tank dives and even though I thought I would be an air hog, I was glad to find out I wasn’t, which made me feel great.
When I was injured, it wasn’t just me who was affected — my whole family was injured. My wife gave up her job to divide her time between home and hospital to be with me. I’m here at the hospital every day doing my rehab, learning to walk again, hoping to get home soon. My son, a junior in high school is back home in Tennessee for school, so he can graduate with his friends. The separation is difficult for all of us. By the time I’m done I will have been here at Walter Reed for almost two years, going through surgeries, learning to walk and regaining as much function in my right arm as I can.
When a soldier gets injured there are a lot of people who want to help. What they really need though is someone to reach out to the whole family. Task Force Dagger does a great job at that, by including all of us. The chance to dive again and take a break from this world of hospital and rehab was huge for us as a family and a real chance to heal together. We get to go somewhere and be normal for a while. For the first time since my injury, we are doing rehab together. Now I’m looking forward to the next trip and getting back in the water.”
NEXT: What It's Like to Get Engaged at 350 Feet >>>
What It's Like... To Get Engaged at 350 Feet
By: Lauren Fanning
On the morning of May 9, 2012, my boyfriend Jon and I woke up before the sunrise to prep for our 350-foot dive. I didn't realize more was in store for this dive beside the new push on depth for the two of us. Prior to this, our deepest dive was to 300 feet. Jon and I have a routine for technical dives. We put headphones in and turn the music up to zone out everyone and everything around us. Afterwards, we find "our spot" on the bow of the boat to meditate and visualize the dive until it comes time to gear up. As far as I knew, nothing was different this morning. We were getting close to the site and with a simple look, Jon and I know it's time to head back and get ready. I remember telling him we're so lucky to share such a unique and special experience together. We geared up and did a live drop. Luckily we're so in synch that neither of us has to wait for the other. We dropped down, did our bubble checks and then made our descent to 350 feet. Once we hit depth, Jon and I regulator kissed and cheered that we were at 350. Then he turned around and was kicking in front of me fumbling with his hands. I took in the dramatic scene in front of my eyes, a sheer ledge and 50 or so feet in front of that, another sheer drop off to who knows what depth massive pinnacles rising up.
Then Jon turned around and presented a slate to me. On it,I read the words, "Lauren Fanning, Will you marry me?" Plus, my options,"yes" and "no." I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. When I realized what was happening, I jumped on top of him laughing (while breathing helium and sounding like a chipmunk and laughing even harder because of that), and all the while my mask is completely flooded. He calmed me down and presented the slate again (I got too excited to circle yes, or no). I finally circled yes, over and over again. By now it was time to ascend and start decompressing. We switched from having a fun, romantic, crazy moment to being serious and having a duty to fulfill. I can't really imagine what decompressing face to face with Jon for 70 plus minutes would be like had I said no! I will say that deco went by very fast, and we surfaced to an entire boat full of people yelling, "Congratulations!"
I couldn't be happier with the proposal and cannot wait for the wedding. We will not be getting married underwater, though. We figured it might be a bit tough to tec train our mothers (who do not scuba dive), and find someone to marry us at I don't know... 400 feet.
NEXT:What It's Like to Cage-Dive with Wild Bears >>>
What It's Like... To Cage-Dive with Wild Bears
By: Sergey Gorshkov
Kurile Lake in Kamchatka, Russia, is the largest spawning ground for red salmon in Eurasia, and the best place for bears. They come here every year from generation to generation. I went there after seeing a television documentary, and became absorbed.
I knew that no one had taken a picture of these bears underwater, and I started moving in that direction, having a clear idea in my mind what I wanted to do, understanding that it would be not only difficult but dangerous too. I said to a shop assistant, “I need a box for my photo camera to take pictures of bears underwater” — he put his finger to his temple and twisted it, as though I was the craziest person he had ever met.
While working with predators, the border between life and death is very slight. You can meet a bear quite often and work with it without any problems, but one mistake is enough to lead to the fatal results. To work in direct contact is very dangerous — but I really wanted this shot. So we had a special cage built — when the bear got up on his hind legs, I had to watch from the bottom up.
To achieve my dream I spent long hours in the icy water. But excitement turns your head. You can get very close to a bear — nose to nose, so to say — and there is only one thing in your mind: how not to lose the moment. The bears I worked with were posing while I was just shooting them, but as soon as I got into the water they started hunting, taking me as a prey.
It’s only now, looking back, that I realize how dangerous it was. Bears have caused more injuries to photographers than lions, tigers, leopards and sharks combined.
I would not recommend anyone to repeat what I did.