“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.”
After more than ten hours in the water, Shirley finally reached a depth of 20 feet. He was exhausted and approaching hypothermia, but he stayed there decompressing for almost two hours. The next circle of hell was at just ten feet and had to be endured, according to the tables, for a full two hours and 20 minutes. As soon as Shirley settled in, a sharp pain flared in his left leg, a sign that more bends could be on the way. It was time to take his chances on the surface. LOWER LEFT LEG HURT. COULD BE LACK OF USE? he wrote on a slate. Soon after, Sander appeared. I'M HERE TO TAKE YOU HOME, he wrote.
Shirley was carried out. He had been in Bushman's Hole almost 12 and a half hours. "Don't cut the drysuit," he managed to growl when he saw Du Preez coming at him with a pair of shears. Shirley was winched up the cliff face, and within 22 minutes he was in the recompression chamber.
OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS, as word spread of Shaw's death, the Dreyers and most of the dive team went home. Andre Shirley arrived on Sunday, after driving all night from Badplaas, to take her husband for additional recompression treatments in Pretoria. But Herbst stayed at the hole, and he was in a grim mood. It had been left to him to retrieve all the lines and gas cylinders that still hung in Bushman's depths, work he had started on Monday. By Wednesday, he was ready to go after the deepest cylinders, and he had called in his Afrikaner diving buddy Petrus Roux to help, with the police assisting at shallower depths. Standing at the water's edge, the police team held an impromptu memorial service for Shaw. Police diving superintendent Ernst Strydom and Roux read from the Bible. Herbst hadn't planned to say anything, but emotion gripped him, and a few words came.
"I'm going to miss you, mate," he said, as if Shaw could hear. "It's a good place. Rest here, stay here." The group sang "Amazing Grace" as black clouds threatened rain. And then Herbst and Roux dived into the hole.
They dropped to 300 feet and attached lifting buoys to the shot line to raise the cylinders still at 500 feet to a more manageable depth. When they returned to the surface, they were approached by police diver Gert Nel, who had been helping to clear lines in the chimney. "Did you see them?" Nel asked quietly. "See what?" Herbst asked. "The bodies," Nel said. "We saw Deon and Dave stuck in the cave at 20 meters."
Herbst rested up and returned to the water. As soon as he cleared the narrow neck of the chimney, his cave light locked on to Shaw, floating eerily upright, his arms spread wide and the back of his head and shoulders jammed against the ceiling. Shaw's light was hanging below. Looped around it was the cave line he had attached to Deon in October, and cradled almost perfectly in the line, its legs hanging down as if on a swing, was the headless body of Deon Dreyer. Herbst realized that Shaw's light must've gotten tangled in the cave line. When Herbst and Roux had lifted the shot line with the buoys, it had pulled the cave line—and with it Deon and Shaw—off the bottom. As Shaw ascended, the gases in his body, as well as those in his suit, rebreather, and buoyancy wing, had started to expand. Up he had gone, dragging Deon with him.
Herbst brought Deon out first. The police team laid a white body bag along the water's edge and lifted Deon into it. There was a surprising firmness under the wetsuit, and Strydom was shocked to get a whiff of rotting flesh. One of Deon's flippered feet fell off. A policeman tossed it into the bag alongside the body, and the zipper was closed. Shaw had died doing it, but Deon's body had finally been taken back from Bushman's Hole.
Shaw was recovered next. It was a distressing job. His body was grotesquely swollen from the change of depth and pressure, and it was locked by rigor mortis in the free-fall position. Herbst, standing in the surface pool, had to cut Shaw out of his equipment. "That was quite bad," he says, choking up.