Andrea Doria Trip, July 1999
My trip to the Doria started off very good, we had got to the wreck faster than last year and the mooring buoy was already there, a boat was on it and had to move. I had done 2 dives the first day and on my second dive I had recovered some china, Jackie Smith had followed my line in Gimbels Hole and also had gotten some china. The next morning things took a very bad turn and this is how I saw it.
At 5:30 am I awoke to get an early dive in, Charlie McGurr and a new diver to the Doria and a another more experienced diver who had dived with Charlie many times before had planned to dive early also, I was told the current was ripping and it was. Soon everyone was up, no one was going to try to dive in that current.
At 7:25 am I took a good look at the current and believed I could dive it, I suited up and prepared to enter the water, as I was about to go I heard someone say " he's got both his tanks on the same side" and I also heard some answer " thats the WKPP shit ", I hit the water and the current was no problem for me, I did my dive and on my deco I saw Jackie and Alston go by me, the mid water current was still Ripping, I did not see any other divers, I went to my own hang line to deco and never saw another diver. I got on the boat and degeared, put my china away. I was able to get a photo of the 2 Mikes from CA before they went in the water, they were the last 2 to go.
The group of 3 that Charlie was a part of had already gone. We did not know there was a problem until after the new diver came back from his dive and as he was boarding the boat, asked where Charlie was, he had never seen him.
This is what I believe happened based on the info from all divers involved, this is what I believe and all on this trip may not believe as I do. It was reported by a diver who was decoing at 50ft on the anchor line of what he saw:
The leader of the group came by first, the current was still very strong. The new diver came by next and had a very hard time getting by the diver decoing, to the point that he had stopped going down and after giving an OK sign to the deco diver for having a hard time to get by him. Unknown to the new diver, Charlie McGurr made his fatal move, the decoing diver reported that Charlie had let go of the anchor line to pass them both and the current had him. The decoing diver said Charlie was kicking and using his hands to try and get back to the anchor line. He said that he could see Charlie had made it to the line as vis was about 30ft vertical here. The new diver had never seen this I think based on he info at hand as he had a great deal of trouble doing the pass and still believed that Charlie was behind him. It was reported by the lead diver that Charlie came to the wreck but not all the way, as he looked up Charlie waved him on and pointed up, and gave the OK sign.
This was not uncommon for him I was later told, vis here was only 20ft vertical. Charlie then started up out of sight, a few minutes pass and the new diver got to the wreck, he looked for Charlie behind him, the lead diver signaled that Charlie was OK and going up. The new diver did not know that Charlie was in front of him and that he should have passed him coming down as Charlie was going back up. The fact that he asked where Charlie was and said he never saw him tells me this. In his mind Charlie was always behind him.
This all tells me that something happened to Charlie between 160ft and 140ft, the wreck is at 180ft, the new diver had to be around 100ft as he was so slow and had trouble passing the decoing diver. The vis did not let either diver see what happened, the leader had gotten the OK sign and Charlie was going up , the new diver could not tell him he did not pass him , because Charlie should have been behind him. Once the lead diver came up we asked him where Charlie was, he told us Charlie came up and did not do the dive, Charlie is now missing.
The lead diver goes down (never got out of his gear or on the boat) and counts every diver that is decoing, the number is one short. The chase boat does a surface search, miles from the Seeker. The CG is called, they drop a beacon in the water to measure the speed and direction of the current, in case he is on the surface drifting. I have now been out of the water for 150 minutes. Capt. Dan plans to go look for Charlie, I offer to go with him, I run new tables for 240ft 20 and 25 mins, with 180 min SI, we make a plan of area to look based on the facts and the direction of the current.
Dan will lead, I have never been to the area we are to look, no line will be run, to cover more area. We will look in the debris field; the tie in is 60 ft aft of Gimbels hole. We found the diver laying in the Promenade deck, this was a bit of luck as we were at 16 mins into our BT. We had already done a swept of the debris field, with no luck, swimming much faster than I like at 230ft, vis was less then 10ft there, and we had just come up over the top of the boat deck. We were less then 10 ft Fwd of Gimbels hole.
Dan saw him first and signals me over. I looked and there he lay feet first down, his face to the deck, his light was on. We ease down on each side, Dan on his left, I on his right. It is a tight place for 3 divers to be. This is when I tried to look for all the facts I could get, answers maybe, why. The wings looked to be maybe 2/3 full, as Dan began to inflate them I keep looking at his gear. The stages had not been used, I had expected that, the stages were steel, the wings became fully inflated and the relief popped, the wings did not deflate as I have seen post about the bungee wings. But they did not lift him, we each gave lift under his arms and his feet pop lose as they were stuck, this is how he had sunk feet first straight down in my opinion. We then swim him down the hull about a hundred feet to the anchor.
But all need to know what I saw and believe happened, a lot may disagree with me, but this is my opinion and may not be shared by all. These are the facts of the gear, Jackie Smith was asked to check the gear and mixes on the boat while I was decoing.
The wings had to be totally full to move him, after we got him to the anchor line (the plan was to slide him up the anchor line if we found him) Dan removed the stages and then went for the weight belt. I steady the body, he could not get the weight belt undone, the body was face up, I could see he had 2 buckles holding it on so I undid them. The body lifted up, but stopped, I lay under the body as he had his crotch strap over the belt and I fished it out. I had a hold of him as the belt came free, I had a hold of the wreck and him and could not stop from being pulled up by the wings with all that lift was too much as they were still full. Dan signals to let go and I did.
The following is my opinion of the gear and the cause of death:
I believe the diver called the dive as we were told, this was done because he had winded himself when he let go of the anchor line. The added drag from his gear in the current and excess weights on his ankles (all over) was too much for him to bear. He was not streamlined. The diver did not have the experience to just stop long enough to collect himself and breathing heavy, but not wanting to show he was in trouble gave the OK sign and went for the boat. He never stopped to relax and catch his breath. His own ego stop him from asking for help, he knew he was in trouble I think.
I believe he took a CO2 blackout or had a heart attack. When he started up he probably inflated his wings fully as he would have too with all that weight and when he passed out the lift that comes naturally to the body was gone. With no Jon line out and between 140- 160ft he sank. The current was running almost aft to fwd, dropping straight down feet first as his ankle weights and weight belt took him down. He landed feet first and they got stuck in the impact or wedged in at the meeting of 2 plates. The body lay face down as the wings controlled that part of the fall, they were as I said 2/3 full but at one time totally full. The change in depth pressure decreased the volume of the air in the wings as he sank. The wings in my opinion did their job, but they were over task with all the weight. They did not deflate when the relief popped, once all the excess weight was removed they did their job, IMO he did not need a weight belt at all or ankle weights. The steel doubles and steel stages were enough. I do not believe my classic wings would have done any better, maybe less. But I still do not use bungee wings for other reasons. The pony bottle in between the tanks is a waste of time, I have had many debates with those that use them, it is the most useless piece of gear he had on him. He did not breathe it by mistake, but some have.
The pony has outlived its day, it did have a use when the manifolds of the old day only had one regulator, that day is long gone. The old timers that use it, have lived with it for 20 yrs and they still rely on it, the new diver should not. I will not ask the old timers to do without it, if they got into trouble and went for it and it was not there they would die I think. The pony on the back is REC DIVER gear. Not needed with doubles and a duel manifold. But even with this stand I have taken with this gear, the diver in my opinion would still be here if he had not let go of the anchor line to pass, his inexperience on this thing killed him.