“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.”
Before Andrews and Stojakovic started up, they peered once more into the void. This time they could see a light, but they couldn't tell who it was. Andrews took out an underwater slate and wrote, DID NOT MEET D + D, @ 150 [METERS] FOR 6 MIN. 1 LIGHT BELOW? NOT SURE D'S LIGHT OFF. On the way up, they passed Peter Herbst, and then Lo Vingerling, 60, another support diver, who were on their way down. They showed each the slate and continued ascending. They needed to get the slate to the surface.
Herbst is a bearish Afrikaner with unruly graying hair and a love of a good joke. He's also a first-rate diver who never shies from a tough job. The single light meant there was trouble, and without hesitation Herbst descended past his target of 275 feet. Whoever was underneath him might need help, and Shirley was one of his best friends. Just a little deeper, just a little deeper, he kept telling himself. As the diver got closer he found himself praying, Please, please, God, let it be Don.
Just past 400 feet, Herbst pulled even. It was Shirley. Sorry, Dave, Herbst silently apologized. He flashed Shirley the OK sign and got one back. Then Shirley asked Herbst for a slate. He scribbled on it for a second and returned it. It read, DAVE NOT COMING BACK. Now it really hit Herbst. No Deon. No Dave. Reflexively, he peered deep into the hole. He saw nothing, just blackness. He checked Shirley again, and Shirley indicated that he should head up. Lo Vingerling was the next diver to reach Shirley. He signaled that he would drop down to do a last sweep for Shaw. Shirley stopped him, then drew his hand across his throat.
On the surface, the Dreyers waited nervously. It had been more than an hour since Shaw submerged, and the police divers were due to return with their son's body any minute. Theo wrapped his arms around Marie, and they peered into the dark pool. A nervous hush settled over the group. It was broken by the rattling of stones inside a plastic Energade bottle. The bottle was attached to a line dropping 20 feet into the hole, so that the divers could send slates up as they sat decompressing.
It was the slate from Andrews and Stojakovic, and was passed to van Schaik. Somehow, instead of "1 light below," van Schaik understood the slate to read "no lights below." She assumed it was saying that both Shaw and Shirley were gone. Within minutes, the police divers surfaced, empty-handed. In an instant, the entire, noble enterprise fell apart. Divers were dying. There was 30 seconds of stunned silence around the hole, then van Schaik calmly announced, "OK, we are on our emergency plan."
Within 20 minutes another slate arrived. It was from Shirley, and it had been raced to the surface by the next diver to reach him, Stephen Sander, 39, a former police-special-forces diver. DAVE NOT COMING BACK, it stated bluntly, repeating the slate Shirley had given to Herbst. On the flip side it detailed Shirley's new decompression profile. Van Schaik felt some relief—one of her two dead divers was alive—but glancing at the figures on the slate, she could see that Shirley had gone very deep and would run the risk of getting bent as he came up.
For the Dreyers it had been a tragic half-hour. A day that had started out promising the recovery of their son's body was now going to end with Shaw and Deon both at the bottom of Bushman's Hole. The Dreyers backed away from the water, helpless to do anything, and made their way to the farmhouse. Marie was in agony, crying and thinking about Shaw's wife and family. She wandered into Shaw's room and saw his shoes, wallet, cell phone, and clothes, all neatly laid out. It's like he's coming back soon to use it all again, Marie thought. But she knew he wasn't.
Derek Hughes, an underwater cameraman who was working with Gordon Hiles, also left. Before the dive, Shaw had asked him to call Michael Vickers, the Shaws' minister, if there was trouble. Hughes climbed to the top of the crater to get cell-phone reception and placed the call. Vickers asked him if he was sure Shaw wasn't coming back. Hughes waited another two hours before making the trip up the crater to call Vickers again. He was sure.