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Some people have a run of bad luck that defies rational explanation. When I was
working in the diving industry I was asked to pay particular attention to one of
the divers on our boat. She was a woman in her mid-twenties who had suffered
a particularly traumatic experience at sea.
A few years earlier, she and her husband had been taking part in a yacht race round
the Palm Islands, which are located at the inner edge of the Great Barrier Reef to the
north of Townsville. They were negotiating a passage beside a whirlpool when the
yacht hit a submerged rock and broke up . Her husband was thrown into the water and
swam to safety. As he was clambering out, he saw debris from the yacht going round
in circles. It moved to the middle of the whirlpool and was sucked under. He waited
for his wife and the skipper but there was no sign of them.
Distress calls went out from other boats in the race and some of my diving mates
were called upon to mount a rescue operation. Everyone knew that "rescue" was a
term used when no one wanted to talk about retrieving dead bodies.
They reached the site of the accident and recognised it from previous visits. One of
my friends had explored the whirlpool area and knew it well. He figured the missing
people could have been washed into a cleft in the rock platform that ran beside the
pool. He dived down and found bits or wreckage jammed in the base of the cleft but
there was no sign of any bodies.
That night he couldn't sleep. The thought of failing to do a proper search weighed
on his mind. There was an outside chance the missing people were alive and waiting
to be found.
He returned to the scene of the accident at first light and made a determined effort
to penetrate the debris. This time he broke through and found the two people trapped
at the top of the cleft, just clear of the water. The skipper was dead but his female
companion was still alive. He thrust his air supply into her mouth and took her to
Not surprisingly, the young woman was deeply shocked by the ordeal . Her husband
continued to dive and it was a long time before he managed to convince her that it was
safe for her to go to sea again. When she went out with me it was her first diving trip
since that fateful day.
The weather was fine and the sea was calm but murky when we reached the Great
Barrier Reef. The skipper anchored well away from the reef for safety reasons. He
took two buddy pairs across in a small rubber boat then returned and handed the boat
over to me. I went out with the husband and wife and a novice diver for whom I was
responsible as dive master.
We checked that the boat was properly anchored and began our dive. After a
couple of minutes my buddy began to show signs of anxiety. I wasn't surprised. There
were sharks everywhere. In all my years of diving I'd never seen so many in the same
place at the same time. And they weren't harmless reef sharks. They were bronze
whalers and some were very big. Diving in murky water is not advised when sharks