This event happened on a dive trip to Komodo in Aug 2006. We just surfaced from a night dive at Teluk Gili Lawa, northern Komodo Island. There were 6 divers in the group, all talking excitedly about the amazing creatures we just saw. That was our first night in Komodo and the first time we saw a one-foot long nudibranch (Hexabranchus sanguineus), so everyone was pretty buzzed. The sea was very calm in the bay as our small tender boat slowly making its way to our direction. One by one we climbed on board the boat and made our way back to the liveaboard about 50m away. As we approach the ladder on the liveaboard, still pretty psyched about the dive, the tender boat was slowly taking in water. I wasn't too worried at that time and quickly climbed the ladder without my video camera since I was nearest to the ladder.
I was on the deck of the liveaboard drying my face, when there were some shouting from the tender boat below. My video camera fell into the sea as it was being transferred to the liveaboard! One of the guide quickly jumped in the water to try & grab it but in the pitch black sea that was a futile thing to do.
My initial reaction was calm since i thought the water was not deep since we surfaced at the shallow area of the bay (depth approx. 10m) and the liveaboard was anchored. Both my assumptions were wrong. The liveaboard was not anchored and the current was moving it away from the spot. I found out later that the depth could be anything between 40 to 100m in that area, nobody was certain. Coordinates were taken with GPS but by that time we had already drifted away, so nobody was sure of the exact spot the housing sank.
The mood was somber that night, the diver that dropped my housing couldn't stop apologizing to me. Apparently he grabbed the flexible arm of the lights when he was passing the housing to the crew on the boat. Obviously the weight of the housing snapped the arm off and the housing fell directly between the tender boat & the liveaboard. The housing + camera was expensive (approx USD3500) but i was sadder by the fact that i couldn't shoot any video in the next 5 days of the trip.
We discussed extensively that night about how to find the housing but the odds were against us. We didn't know the exact spot & the depth. If the depth was beyond 50m, the chances of finding it with regular scuba gear was nil.
First thing next day, the captain measured the depth of the bay in the area marked by GPS using strips of cloth tied to the anchor rope. We held our breath as he dropped the anchor. He announced that the depth was between 35 to 45m. There was a slim chance of finding it. We discussed the dive plan again; we are going to form a straight row of divers starting from the anchor point & swim NE from there. The plan was to dive down until we can see the bottom and swim slowly along the current whilst scanning the bottom. Deco time must be strictly observed and we should maintain visual contact with divers on either side at all time. Anybody spotted the housing must signal by banging their tank continuously.
With the plan agreed and everyone clear on the instructions, I gave a final word to the group. I said that the housing is worth less than our lives so do not take any dangerous action just to find the housing. Then we jumped in.
The water was very clear, visibility was up to 20 meters and the there was absolutely no current, we were very lucky. We spread out to form a straight row and started to swim. I was on the left most side of the row and I could see the bottom clearly whilst hovering at 35m. The bottom was sandy and sparsely dotted with leather corals. One of the divers signaled once and went down closer to the bottom to check out something. It was a false alarm that was just a clump of leather coral. The Invader housing is silver in color, about the size of a shoebox with black handles, so I knew that if it were that, it would have been clearly seen.
The non-deco dive time ticked by and there were a few more false alarms. Some of us clearly wanted to see the housing even though it wasn't there, I suppose narcosis started to set in. I was still very clear headed when the non-deco dive time reached 1 minute, I get the signal to start surfacing. With a heavy heart I slowly went up and after extensive safety stop with rest of the group we surfaced.
Back on the liveaboard, the mood was grim. We had our breakfast quietly and discussed whether it's worth doing another dive. At that time we had no idea whether we got the spot wrong or we didn't cover enough area. Everyone decided for another try, this time at a spot based on the land markings noted by the guides when the housing fell. The guide and the instructor in our group took the tender boat to the spot and dropped a line marker with a buoy attached. The spot was at least 300m away but this was based on the guide's estimate by looking at the land markings.
We again planned to do a similar straight row formation dive. As we dropped in the condition was the same and I was hovering at 35m scanning the bottom. This time we had shorter non-deco dive time, there were also less false alarms. I looked at my dive comp and it says i have 2 minutes left. I gave up hope & thought that we must be crazy if we hope to find such a small thing in this vast sea. That's when I hear the frantic continuous banging of the tank coming from the middle of the row. I quickly swam to the middle and saw the instructor picking up the housing from the sandy bottom!.
It was unbelievable; the diver that dropped my housing continues to bang the tank excitedly until everyone gathered. I shook my fists and screamed in my regulator in excitement. Amazingly the housing can still be turned on, we shot some footage of each other screaming woohoos in the water as we did the safety stop.
Back on the boat the dive comp on the instructor showed that the housing was resting at 45.3m. We were all in a state of natural high after that, high-fiving, hugging and talking non-stop about the amazing luck.
I was extremely lucky to get my housing back, now I won't let it out of my sight until I'm back in a safe area. As a safety precaution I now always bring the lights & flexible arm in the BC and only attach it underwater.
Let this be a lesson to us all.
Amphibico Invader Spent the Night at 45m
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