“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.”
Shaw arrived in Johannesburg six days before the dive. His first stop was Komati Springs, where he practiced getting a body into the bag underwater, with Shirley playing the part of Deon's corpse. At 66 feet, it went smoothly, taking Shaw only a couple of minutes. A day later, he and Shirley drove to Mount Carmel, where seven South African rebreather divers, handpicked by Shirley, and a police team from Cape Town and Pretoria (since there was a dead body involved) were assembling. The dive would go off on the coming Saturday, January 8, and Shirley's dive plan was like an underwater symphony. Shaw was looking at a dive that would last roughly 12 hours, and would hit the water around 6 a.m. All the other divers would key off Shaw's dive time and head for specific target depths either to help look after Shaw or pass Deon's body to the surface. The first diver Shaw would meet on the way back up was Shirley, at 725 feet. He would hand the body bag over, and, if things went well, Deon would be out of the water about 80 minutes after Shaw's dive had started.
Shirley had done everything in his power to minimize the risks. He planned to have 35 backup cylinders of gas in the water—enough so that he, Shaw, and even some support divers could survive total rebreather failure. He arranged for a rope-and-sling system to be set up that could haul a diver on a stretcher up the cliffs of the hole to a recompression chamber that the police trucked in. To cope with any medical emergencies, Shirley had recruited a doctor—Jack Meintjies, a specialist in diving physiology at the University of Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town—to be on hand. When Meintjies realized that up to nine divers would be in the water, and learned the depths they would be going to, he almost backed out. "There were too many potential bodies. You are dealing with multiple divers going deep, and that's serious," Meintjies says.
Shaw, for one, was quietly confident. At Mount Carmel, he stressed repeatedly that the effort was an "attempted" body recovery. "The dive is huge," he told a collection of reporters and cameramen gathered a day before the dive. "No one has ever attempted anything even vaguely approximating a body recovery from these sorts of depths." He also talked about his motivation with the team. "I think what you are doing for the Dreyers is great," said Peter "Big B" Herbst, a 42-year-old dive instructor and the owner of Reef Divers, a dive shop and tour operator in Pretoria. Shaw looked at him, winked, and said, "Face it, B, we're doing this for the adventure of it."
Shaw did have one wrinkle to sort out. He had partnered up with South African documentary filmmaker Gordon Hiles to chronicle the recovery of Deon. Hiles had designed an underwater camera housing for a lightweight, low-light Sony HC20 Handy- cam and attached it to a Petzl climbing helmet. Shaw was not used to wearing a helmet. He liked to carry a high-intensity light on the back of his hand, and if he needed both hands underwater, Shaw would normally sling the light and cable around his neck so it wouldn't snag on anything. The helmet cam would make it hard to do that. Shaw tried the device in the swimming pool at Mount Carmel and decided he was comfortable with the design and weight. He told Hiles that, instead of slinging his light around his neck, he would occasionally set it out to the side.
Three days before the dive, Shaw carried the camera on an acclimatization dive to 500 feet. It came out in perfect running order. "A very impressive bit of gear," Shaw said to Hiles. "I'm sure you'll be impressed with my video footage as well." Everyone laughed.
The divers gathered for one last briefing on Friday. It was a warm, beautiful evening, and Shaw had some final points to make. "The most important person on this dive is you. If you have a problem, deal with your problem and forget about me," he told the team. "It's better to have one person dead than two." He had a separate, private conversation with Shirley, who had upgraded his rebreather for the dive with an oil-filled Hammerhead controller so he could get all the way to the bottom of Bushman's if he had to. Shirley had asked his friend, "If you have problems, do you want me to come down?"
Shaw considered the question and answered, "Yes, but only come down if I signal."
Shirley and Shaw had one last message for the gathered team. "If Dave doesn't make it, if I don't make it, we stay there," said Shirley. "That's the end of the story. We don't want to be recovered."