Facing My Mistake
By Capt. JT
This is the account of my Doria trip and my own mistakes, it is my belief that the living should tell of their own mistakes, as we know the dead keep theirs with them.
The trip was set the three of us would go together, two had never been before and we looked forward to the trip. The depth, wreck diving, low visibility, and cold water were not new to us. I had never been. So excitement was glowing from me every time I talked of it.
The Doria trip is not a trip at all, but is in fact an expedition. Only those who have never been would call it anything else.
Twelve days before my trip I heard there was a death on the Doria, eight days later I heard it happen again. I had no will, so as I have a loving girlfriend, I called a lawyer friend and had a make do one prepared. You never know when your number is up, the Grime Reaper has seen this wreck and there is a small note in my will that forbids any lawsuits as I fully accept the risks and blame that is my choice should the Reaper come see me. It was believed that the two who had died there did so going into the wreck after the China. She made me promise not to go inside or take chances. I said I would not. It is the only lie I've ever told her.
The long drive up was just that LONG. As we loaded our gear on the boat (we were the last to get there) I was impressed with the boat and its layout, but I would find that I would not like the ladder. After a briefing from the Capt. we departed sometime after midnight. Nothing to do but sleep. No one ever asked, but we all wondered who had the dead guys bunk. Gary Gentile was a mate and John Moyer was co/Captain on this trip and I knew Gary from other diving trips in South Carolina where I had also met Pete Mangee and John Rose. I developed a divers friendship with Pete and planned dives with him. John was to have gone on some of these but caving was his game I was told and all this is another story.
We arrived at the site around 11am,all three mooring buoys were gone. The next 3 or more hrs were spent trying to hook the top of the wreck close to Gimbels Hole. At last it was done, but now the current made it undivable. For three more hours we waited, then the Capt. gave the go head.
Gary and John went in to do the tie in, and tell us where we had anchored. The report was we were hooked 20ft from gimbals hole what luck. As this is where you must enter to get to the China hole that Gary had found in 97 and everyone that found China benefited from. Dive one There was no fooling around, daylight was going and I was getting in the water.
Dive One: We three dressed for the dive, I was ready first. I did a kind of half roll entry and the impact knocked my mask lose as that is not how I normally enter the water, upon popping to surface I grabbed the granny line and tried to reseal my mask while holding onto the line as the current was still running. A quick fix and I was gone, pulling myself along I had to lay face up as the line lay under the boat. It became apparent that my mask was badly leaking I would fix it down a little deeper. At 60ft I stop with a mask full of water and tried to fix it, no good what's wrong, the other two showed up they could not fix it, I saw them smile as I told them I was going up. I swim under the boat (more like rode the current) came right to the ladder all the time clearing my mask.
This was my first look at the ladder it was hell. Half way up with two stage bottles I could not get my fins in the slots, as I yelled how to get up one of the mates took my stages off and I fought my way up. A equipment line/gear line is best used here. As I was de-gearing one of my friends was heard at the back of the boat, as he to fought that ladder I did see he was minus that smile he had when I saw him last. At 180ft his drysuit would not inflate. The other friend dove solo as he normally does and he had been to the Doria before. No one else tried to dive that day.
Dive Two: Up at the crack of dawn, never did find what was wrong with my mask, may have been hair as I have the long stringy kind and the hood had twisted during the impact to expose it. The dive was uneventful as I checked the layout and surroundings looked in Gimbels hole did not go more than 10ft in. One of my friends had run a line to the kitchen and had left it as he had found a serving tray and salad bowls. As we were on our SI Gary and John recovered a record hall for them I think 70 pieces. The Capt. was quick to see the lust in our eyes and knew where we were going on our second dive of the day. He said he would run a line there as he was going there and leave it for us, sounded good to me. Upon his return he had 30 or more pieces. Before we even started to get dress he gave everyone a plate, a nice thing to do, now there was no pressure to get something I had it, but still wanted to get some myself. Two divers I did not know went in before me, so I waited that we would not be all in the same spot at one time.
Dive Three: In all my years of diving I would make the biggest mistake I have ever made on this dive, no matter how you read this I take the full blame for my mistake, some of you may have made similar mistakes and being alone as I was you may have chose to keep it to yourself, by doing this you take the chance away that someone else could learn from this, my friends have rode me hard as I told the truth, maybe everyone should tell their own mistakes. To let your EGO stop you from telling is worst than the mistake itself.
After 25min behind the two divers before me, I hit the water, going down the line past them on their deco never missing beat. I had no way of knowing of their own cluster xxxk. I entered Gimbels Hole following the line, my friends own line that he had run and left with reel was gone I could see the line going down from Gimbels Hole it had been knocked off. I have done many wreck penetrations, but to see what's in the Doria, I can only say that 10 or so deaths here is a small number. There are many entanglements, I would never in a million years go inside here doing deep air. I past all entanglements with ease, buoyancy control is a must, not a problem with that. I follow the line leading me to the goodies, visibility was not good, I found the end of the line, it had been cut.
I found out later that the two divers before me had become entangled in it, they had a small silt out, and cut the line. It was rumored that one of them did not know how he got out, but I did not hear him say it. I should have at this pt. stopped and came out, but the lure of china and my own ego lead me on.
The line was laying on the bathtub, all I had to do was drop down first class Foyer stair corridor to 220ft and the other end of the line would be on the china hole,15ft at the most. This was my mistake, I had several options of the right way to precede, my ego help me chose the only wrong one. I drop down the corridor, down to 220ft stopped and looked, no line, turned and looked threw an opening that seem like a door. With my light I could see the end of the line, I went to it, after a few feet I saw it was on a wreck reel. No one ever said anything about a wreck reel, but there was a crack in the bulkhead, which I had been told the china was in. I looked, no china. I picked up the wreck reel and reeled it following it to the end and placed it in my bag, put my hand on the door turned and started up the corridor, as I started up I could see that there was no opening, I was lost. For that second I felt what the others before me had, stress is a major factor now, panic could be the next thing, stress leads to panic, panic leads to death. I stopped right there, looked at my gauges, time, and tried to think how I missed the corridor. I sank down to 220ft right to the door. I clearly was at the same door, with my hand never leaving that bulkhead I looked up with my light and could see I had ascent up the wrong side of the corridor bulkhead. Upon exiting the shaft I saw my two friends headed down the hall. I came out of Gimbels hole went up and completed my deco.
After setting down and de-gearing myself, Gary saw the reel I had and asked wear did I get it. I told him it must be the Captains he ran it to the China that I never found, he said no that he had lost that reel bringing the body out on the last trip and could never find the reel. Dive four I made my last dive and went back to the corridor they told me the China was right there, I never did find it, but I did find some broken pieces. And they are mine. On my deco I did see an Ocean Sunfish and a blue shark.
China off the Andrea Doria