“You focus on the one thing,” Herbst says. “You don’t focus on the dive anymore. The one thing becomes everything. And I think with Dave it become the body, the body, the body.”
Diving Bushman's is exhilarating. The narrow entrance is claustrophobic, but once you reach the vast main chamber, it's like spacewalking. For a young cave diver like Deon Dreyer, it must have been irresistible. Deon grew up in the modest town of Vereeniging, about 35 miles south of Johannesburg, and loved adventure in all its forms. He shot his first buck at the age of ten. By 17 he was racing a souped-up car around local tracks, tinkering with his motorcycle, and designing obscenely loud car stereos. Another of his passions was diving. "He couldn't sit still, never, ever, ever," says his younger brother, Werner, now 27.
Deon had logged about 200 dives when he was invited to join some South Africa Cave Diving Association divers at Bushman's Hole over the 1994 Christmas break. They planned a descent to 492 feet and asked Deon to dive support. He was thrilled. Two weeks before the expedition, Deon's grandfather passed away. Sitting around a barbecue with his family one night, Deon spoke with boyish hubris. "He said if he had a choice of how to go out in life, he'd like to go out diving," recalls his father, Theo, 51, the owner of a business that sells and services two-way radios.
Deon's mother, Marie, a petite 50-year-old, begged Deon not to go. In 1993, Bushman's Hole had already taken the life of a diver named Eben Leyden, who blacked out at 200 feet. (A dive buddy rushed him to the surface, but Leyden didn't survive.) And then, on December 17, 1994, the hole claimed Deon Dreyer.
For Marie and Theo, the nightmare started with a policeman's knock at the door. They rushed to Mount Carmel, where slowly the story came out. The team had been doing a practice dive. On the way back up, at 196 feet, Deon appeared to be fine, exchanging hand signals with his buddy. The group continued ascending. At 164 feet they suddenly noticed a light below them. A quick, confused diver count came up one short. Team leader Dietloff Giliomee wasn't sure what was happening. Then another diver, in the eerie glow of his submersible light, dragged his finger across his throat. Giliomee desperately started swimming down but stopped when he realized the light below him was already more than 100 feet deeper and fading fast. "I decided it was a suicide chase," he wrote in the accident report.
No one knows for sure what killed Deon. The best guess is deep-water blackout from carbon dioxide buildup. Two weeks after the accident, Theo paid to bring in a small, remotely operated sub used by the De Beers mining company. It found Deon's dive helmet on the vast floor of Bushman's, but there was no sign of his body. Resigning themselves to the idea that Deon would stay in the hole for eternity, Theo and Marie placed a commemorative plaque on a rock wall above the entry pool. "He had the most majestic grave in the country," Theo says. "And I said, ‘Well, this will be his final resting place.' "
But on October 30, 2004, Dave Shaw called Theo and said, "I will go and fetch your son." Theo immediately responded, "Yes, absolutely yes." More than anything, he realized, he wanted to see his boy again.
IF RECOVERING DEON from the bottom of Bushman's Hole was a feat of extraordinary ambition and danger, combining extreme depth with demanding work, Shaw and Shirley were just the guys to pull it off. On his first dive, in 1999, with his then-17-year-old son, Steven, in the Philippines, Shaw had found a sport whose challenges he couldn't resist. He quickly pushed past the standard reef tours and went wreck diving. Soon enough he discovered the caves, and he was hooked.
As an airline pilot, Shaw could dive all over the world—in Asia, the United States, Mexico, and South Africa. He was born in the small town of Katanning, in Western Australia, and from the age of three, when he built his first toy aircraft out of cardboard, Shaw knew he wanted to fly. By the time he was 18, in 1973, he was working as a crop duster. That same year he met the Melbourne-raised Ann Broughton at a youth camp in Perth. He took her up in an airplane on their first date, and 20 months later they were married. In 1981, Shaw became a missionary pilot, moving with Ann to Papua New Guinea, where Steven was born. A daughter, Lisa, followed in 1983, and the Shaws relocated briefly to Tanzania before moving to New South Wales, Australia, where eventually Shaw began flying corporate jets. In 1989, he settled in with Cathay Pacific, moving his family to Hong Kong.