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Scuba diving accident kills another Andrea Doria diver

A painting of the decaying SS Andrea Doria circa 2005, with its superstructure gone and hull broken after 50 years of submersion in swift North Atlantic currents.

by JOSHUA BALLING

NANTUCKET, Massachusetts (31 July 2008) — The body of a man presumed to be the missing diver who failed to surface Wednesday morning after exploring the wreck of the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria 50 miles south of the island was recovered by fellow divers early in the evening.

Coast Guard officials said the man, who had not been positively identified as of 8 p.m., was recovered by some of the nine other divers who dove on the wreck site with him earlier in the day.

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Hammerhead assisted in recovering the body once it reached the surface. The diver’s body is currently being transported to Montauk, N.Y., where it is expected to reach this morning.

The name of the dive boat has not been released pending notification on the man’s next of kin.

Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England in Providence, R.I. received a radio distress call around noon from the 38-foot dive boat reporting that one of its divers had not surfaced at 11 a.m. as expected.

Two Jayhawk helicopter crews from Air Station Cape Cod searched the area from the sky throughout the afternoon, and Hammerhead, an 87-foot patrol boat from Woods Hole, Mass., arrived on the scene a little after 5 p.m., Coast Guard petty officer Connie Terrell said.

After the body was recovered, the Coast Guard did a post-search-and-rescue boarding of the dive boat and will continue its investigation into the man’s death, but wrapped up the on-the-water portion of the operation. The helicopters and Hammerhead headed back to their home ports.

On July 26, 1956, the Andrea Doria sank to the bottom of the Atlantic 53 miles southeast of Nantucket, 11 hours after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm in a dense fog common in that part of the ocean during the summer months.

Because of her location relatively close to the coast, and in water accessible to experienced divers 250 feet below the surface, the Andrea Doria has proven an incredibly alluring, albeit it incredibly dangerous, attraction for both professional and amateur divers.

She has not given up her secrets easily. Fourteen men have been killed diving on the wreck, most recently experienced diver and Andrea Doria expert David Bright the week before the 50th anniversary of the sinking in 2006. Five divers were lost in one 13-month span between 1998 and 1999.

Visibility below the surface is practically nil, the currents are strong, and because of the depth, divers can only spend 15 or 20 minutes on the bottom before they must return to the surface, stopping along the way for over an hour to decompress. Any one of a dozen things can go wrong: Equipment can malfunction, divers can run out of air or get snagged in the spidery cables dangling throughout the ship or the fishing nets draped over the wreckage. The chances of survival? Minimal.

Jacques Cousteau made a single dive to inspect the Andrea Doria. He surfaced to say he would not return. The water was too deep, too shark-infested, and the currents too tricky for his safety and health, he said.

 
Some 14 divers have died over the years exploring the wreck of the Andrea Doria, which sank 53 miles southeast of Nantucket on July 26, 1956.

“You have to stay on schedule and if you get disoriented you can get in trouble real fast,” Nantucket lobsterman Chuck Butler, who dove on the wreck in 1974, said following the death of 54-year-old William Schmoldt in 2002.

“On the surface and on paper it seems straight-forward, but down there you are in the dark and on the verge of what amateurs can do.”

Bart Malone, who has made more than 170 logged dives to the Andrea Doria since he first reached the wreck in 1985, for years served as a mate on the Seeker, one of the two principal dive boats to work the Andrea Doria. He was on five of what he calls the “death trips” and personally knew two of the divers who perished.

“I lost my partner in 1993. We were both breathing the same gasses, but he didn’t want to use the argon gas to keep him warm. I always felt he just got cold and numb and dumb. He never made it back,” Malone said of Matthew Lawrence. “I found him sitting on the bottom. It’s always when we found a new hole into the ship that people died. It’s a shame when they die, but it’s greed that kills.

Today, the vessel has seriously deteriorated. The superstructure has completely pulled away from the ship and lays on the ocean floor, exposing far more of the Andrea Doria than has ever been revealed before. At the same time, divers must head even deeper to reach the wreckage, increasing the danger.

“You’re basically working the bottom,” Malone said. “It’s a scary swim to get down there.”
Source: CDNN – CYBER DIVER News Network

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