Fatal Depth: Deep Sea Diving, China Fever, and the Wreck of the Andrea Doriaby Joe Haberstroh
At 11:10 P.M. on July 25, 1956, the luxurious Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria collided with the Stockholm forty-five miles south of Nantucket. Half a century later, the wreck of the Andrea Doria is still claiming lives. Professional and amateur divers the world round consider the Andrea Doria to be the Everest of diving. At 225 feet below the surface, the wreck lies at the very edge of human endurance and accomplishment; ordinary air becomes toxic and the divers who go there suffer nitrogen narcosis or "the rapture of the deep." Symptoms include confusion, lack of coordination, and perhaps most deadly of all, a loss of the ability to make clear decisions. As a result, divers use Trimix, an exotic blend of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium to descend through the strong currents, rusted metal, and twisted wires to the ultimate symbol of deep sea diving accomplishments: china teacups and plates from the wreck of the Andrea Doria. For serious wreck divers, these fragile artifacts are genuine proof of their abilities as divers.
During the summers of 1998 and 1999, three elite divers lost their lives, all on separate dives from the top dive boat out of Montauk, the 65-foot Seeker. Craig Sicola was clearly suffering from "china fever" before he went down. He'd handled teacups brought up by veteran Doria diver Gary Gentile, and the gleam in Craig's eye was unmistakable. Craig dove on June 24, 1998. A few hours later, his body bobbed to the surface. He was carrying a plate. Joe Haberstroh, the award-winning Newsday reporter, watched events unfold during the summers of 1998 and 1999. In this remarkable and intriguing book he recreates what was the pride of the Italian fleet, how it sank, the dangers of the deep, and the gripping personal stories of the men who live or die for a teacup from its remains.
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.42(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.04(d)
Read an Excerpt
Every time they brushed their fins on anything, they touched off floury clouds of brown silt. Some of the muck even dislodged when the divers' exhalation bubbles boiled into the warped bulkheads. After more than forty years in the high-pressure environment of the deep, the china closet looked nothing like a closet. Long ago it was cleverly designed to fit under a stairway on the ship. Now it was an open mouth in the rusted steel, the gap shaped like a diamond, the edges like razors. A steel support beam knifed into the corridor; one man could hang on to this while the other propped his elbows on the side of the jagged opening and stretched inside with the rake.
They began to work there. Vince took the rake first. The rake tinkled as he pulled it across the goop inside the closet. It was painstaking. After raking the mud, they had to wait for the silt to settle to see if any china had been unearthed. Out of habit, Murphy glanced frequently at his dive timers. Twelve minutes had passed since he and Vince had entered the water. They wanted to stop the work at the china closet at twenty minutes, which would give them five minutes to back out of the ship and get to the Seeker's anchor line.
Vince worked another couple of minutes, then stopped and pointed at Murphy, who took his turn with the rake. Murphy raked the closet down, then waited. Soon a flash of white winked through the soup. It was china.
Murphy reached in and plucked a celery plate. It was intact, and it bore the maroon braids of the first-class service. It was not a cup, or a large dinner plate, but it was boomerang shaped, a bit of an oddity, and he happily placed it in the mesh goodie bag attached to his gear. Time was short, so Murphy thought he'd rake the closet down one more time, as a courtesy to the next team that would inevitably come back to this cache. He began to claw at the muck when Vince reached up to Murphy's mouth and yanked his regulator out of his mouth.
A cloud of bubbles swarmed between them as the regulator released the rest of the air that Murphy had been inhaling.
Stunned, Murphy reached to his left out of a defensive instinct and grabbed Vince's harness. Keeping Vince at bay in this way, he reached for the emergency regulator hooked to the small bailout canister mounted between the big tanks on his back. He kept that rarely-used regulator clipped up near his right shoulder. In a moment, he had the regulator safely clenched in his mouth. Then he turned to Vince and leaned in so their masks were no more than six inches apart.
Vince pointed at Murphy's back. Murphy didn't understand, so he drew his right index finger across his throat. Using the scuba hand signal for an airflow problem, he was asking Vince whether he was having difficulty breathing. Vince didn't respond.
"You out of air?" Murphy screamed through his mask.
Vince returned a placid gaze. It wasn't clear that he could hear what Murphy was saying.
"You out of air?" Murphy repeated. He pointed at Vince. "You out of air? You out of air?"
Now Vince shook his head furiously. No!
He pointed again at Murphy's back. Now Murphy wondered whether he was the one in trouble. It was possible that his main tanks were leaking. The telltale bubble trail would be invisible to him, but Vince could see it, if that indeed was happening. Is that what Vince meant? If so, could he have chosen a more bizarre and idiotic way of telling Murphy that there was a problem?
Nothing made sense. Murphy wanted out.
"Let's get the fuck out of here!" he screamed.
"Yeah!" Vince replied.
Vince took the lead and they swam out of the wreck. Murphy checked the pressure gauges on his main tanks. They indicated that he had plenty of air, even with all the heavy breathing he had just done. He listened for a moment and didn't hear any hiss from an air leak. His main tanks were fine. He spat out the bailout regulator and replaced it with one from his main tanks. Then he pushed off the mottled skin of the Andrea Doria's hull, and the two men swam aft together-toward the shipwreck's stern.
As Murphy watched, Vince started to slow down. He saw the familiar pearls pouring from Vince's main tanks. He was breathing. Those were exhaust bubbles. Vince was breathing. But where was he headed? Murphy couldn't put it all together in his mind. He looked at the luminous gauge that told him how long he had been underwater. Eighteen minutes. He needed to get moving to his first decompression stop, which was one hundred feet up the anchor line. Murphy started to lose sight of Vince.
Dan and Moyer appeared. They were swimming along the ship's length, and Dan had his video camera. At 4:03 P.M., he pointed the lens at Vince, who by now was moving slowly. Vince held his arms straight down, perpendicular to his body. They fluttered, as if they had fallen asleep and he was shaking them to awaken them. His fins moved only inches up and down. He was swimming, at least by the dictionary definition. But it was like a slow-motion film. It would take effort to move your fins that subtly.
Faintly illuminated by the brilliant day above, the ocean at the wreck of the Andrea Doria was a deep blue-green. Vince swam. The ocean gathered in his form. Murphy watched. He thought Vince was simply checking out some other aspect of the wreck. Maybe. Murphy watched, and Vince's receding image was painted over with successive strokes of green. Then, he was gone.
At 4:08 P.M.-five minutes after Vince was captured swimming lethargically on Dan's video-Nick Caruso stepped from the Sea Inn's cabin, squinted into the afternoon light, and saw a diver in the water fifty feet away. Was the diver adjusting his equipment? Glare bounced off the water. No, he wasn't moving.
Caruso shouted at Tommy Surowiec to retrieve the diver in trouble. Surowiec dived in immediately. He reached the diver and turned his face toward the sky. "I need everyone up here now," Caruso said. A few divers, including Santiago Garcia, had been dozing in their bunks below. They all rushed on deck. Caruso threw a line to Surowiec, and they towed in the two men. It wasn't until they got the stricken diver on the Sea Inn's swimming platform, at the boat's stern, that Surowiec recognized the diver as Vince Napoliello.
First they unclipped Vince's main tanks and his decompression stage bottles.
Garcia removed Vince's hood. Someone else opened the suit by unzipping the
zipper that ran diagonally across the front. They scissored the wrist seals and
pulled off Vince's gloves. Surowiec and Caruso began chest compressions and
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Vince's chest rose a couple of times. His eyes
fluttered once. Then his pupils became fixed and dilated. Oddly, for a diver who
had apparently risen quickly from a great depth, Vince had none of the froth at
his mouth that is associated with a catastrophic lung injury. Maybe he hadn't
been that deep when he shot to the surface.
Meet the Author
Joe Haberstroh is the "On the Waters" columnist for Long Island's Newsday. In 1997, he won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the crash of TWA flight 800.
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