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Risky Aqua Azul dive a 'defining moment'
By ANITA MILLER - News Editor
Posted: Wednesday, Jul 06, 2005 - 03:49:10 pm CDT
It's likely no one will ever know what happened to Akin Jonathan Adeyemo.
The 32-year-old British tourist disappeared from atop a waterfall in the Mexican state of Chiapas June 12 and, his family believed, fell into a 75-foot deep pool at the Aqua Azul waterfall's base.
That theory was laid to rest when a search by the San Marcos Area Recovery Team of the pool the locals call a "death hole" turned up no sign of his body.
"We are 100 percent sure that he is not there," said Dan Misiaszek, SMART team captain whose three carefully timed dives into the treacherous pool were, he says, the most challenging of his career.
Five SMART team members and the team's cadaver-sniffing dog were requested to do the search by Adeyemo's family, who learned of the team on the Internet. It's now assumed Adeyemo was swept downstream and on Friday his family returned to London.
Misiaszek said the experience was a "defining moment" for him because, for the first time ever, he realized he would not survive the dive without the surface support of fellow team members including his wife Kathy (a SMART lieutenant), K-9 handler/diver Kevin Roles and dog BOK and divers Jason Hedrick and Don White.
"I don't want to sound like a drama queen, but this operation at Aqua Azul was by far the most physically and mentally challenging dive I have done in my life. I had to rely 100 percent on the topside team to get me out of this deep cavern. The current was so strong at the surface that I had to literally hold my mask on my face and hold the regulator in my mouth. That didn't leave me any hands free to pull myself up on the rope."
Misiaszek made an initial dive with just one rope as a lifeline. However, he only descended 10 or 12 feet before he rethought that situation and signaled to be pulled back out. "My mask was leaking from the heavy current and my hands were bleeding from scraping the rock walls."
He said he looked his wife in the eye and told her "If you guys don't pull me out of here, I'm not coming out." The couple had "some heart to heart moments" before he descended again, this time secured by two ropes.
After two searches of the bottom of the pool and one of caverns that open up between the bottom and the surface, Misiaszek faced another challenge as he was being pulled up.
One of the ropes had become hooked to a rock and Misiaszek felt himself being pulled towards the formation "like a bug on a windshield."
"I had about a minute to pull out my shears and cut the rope away," he said. "Kathy said there were a few seconds of panic when the surface team pulled up an empty rope, but that quickly changed when they saw me break the surface with the shears still in my hand."
He said a Mexican journalist who interviewed the team at the site told them that 194 people had drowned in and around Aqua Azul in the past three years and that 20 of them had died at the waterfall.
He said the Mexican government made the team sign a waver acknowledging the danger of the operation.
Misiaszek is no stranger to perilous situations. He has recovered human remains from the bottom of Jacob's Well in 2000 and the body of a Texas State University-San Marcos student from under Joe's Crab Shack earlier this year. He also rescued a teenager from Cumming's Dam several years ago.
"Honestly, this dive kicked my ***," he said. "I had serious doubts about being here today."
The team's expenses, around $6,000, were paid by Adeyemo's family.
Photo Credit: Dan Misiaszek makes his way toward the shore as his wife Kathy, a SMART lieutenant, and other SMART team members look on. Divers searched for a missing 32-year-old British tourist. (Photo by Jason Hedrick, SMART team member)
I don't want to second guess another teams decision to make the dive, but I do think this dive could start and interesting discusion about risk versus reward. I am most relieved that you yourself made this post and not a mourning team mate.
Holy Schnikies, that is some scary looking water. How exactly do you fall from a waterfall? It didn't look like you can stand any where near the top. Or by falling did they mean he fell in the water and got pulled over the top of the falls?
Are the SMART divers a law enforcement operation or a for hire group only that works for victims?
The river at the top of the falls is shallow and narrow, from that area the victim was believed to have fallen into the water, possibly slipping on the moss/algae covered rocks.
We are a non-profit volunteer organization.
From Our Website: In 1988 SMART Divers was organized to assist public service agencies and organizations with underwater search, recovery, and crime scene investigations. SMART became a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization in 1997 and was incorporated into the South Hays Fire Department in June 2004. SMART combines the unique skills of police officers, fire-rescue, and EMS trained personnel with the field of search and recovery diving to form a specialty team of underwater investigators. SMART specializes in evidence recovery and documentation of the underwater scene with advanced video technology. This is a highly trained dive team that includes dive instructors, dive masters, underwater archeologist, specialty-advanced divers, haz-mat specialist, swift water rescue, deep technical, topside technicians, and cave divers.
I am the diver who made this dive in Mexico and also performed the risk-benefit factor before deciding to enter the water. We had already seen pictures of the site including ariel photographs before we made the trip. We also talked to a diver who had been in the water previously. The main risk is the current at the surface and the fact this is a syphon. We had to be 100% sure the topside team could and would pull me out when the planned bottom time expired.
Our team has a great deal of confidence, training, and experience in currents and coordination at fatality scenes. Yes, it was a risky dive, but well within our training and capabilities. We didn't fly into Chiapas to sit on the rocks and watch.
Speaking of training... I see many people are hung up on being card collectors. I will take an experienced diver over a card collector anyday. Card collectors like to flash a wallet full of "recreational" plastic that may build confidence, but says little about the divers capabilities when it comes to search and recovery. When it comes to cave diving, you MUST have training. In the open water however, experience under adverse conditions outside of the recreational realm is the best trainer. Get your basics, then get in the water. Dive shops love to offer "night diver, spear fishing, bridge diver, advanced diver, river diver, boat diver" and every other thing they can think of to keep you coming back to the store.
I usually love to dive in places that few have gone and in some cases, people have NEVER dove this location. I love diving in the St. Lawrence river where I almost always find an old bottle or tableware. Here is a photo taken in Upstate NY of the days "Catch". http://www.smartdivers.com/images/photogal/his3.jpg