x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Family of dead diver returns to Germany

The wife of a diver who perished during an Oman expedition is returning to Germany with their 18-month-old daughter.

DUBAI // The wife of a diver who went missing during a descent to a shipwreck in 112 metres of water off Dibba has returned home to Germany to start a new life with her 18-month-old daughter.

Jan-Lars Hanz, 34, disappeared on November 5 after becoming separated from the two divers accompanying him. At 20 metres he had difficulty equalising the pressure on his eardrums, and signalled to his companions to continue their descent while he rose to 10 metres.

By the time a second team of divers entered the water 20 minutes later, he had vanished and was never seen again.

Mr Hanz was a member of a team that finds and explores deep-lying shipwrecks around the coast of the UAE and Musandam. He lived in Abu Dhabi with his wife, Silke, 40, and daughter, Julia, but they have now left the UAE.

"His wife has gone back to Germany with the child," said the group leader Bill Leeman, from Dubai. "I got an email from her on New Year's Day saying they'd had a memorial service in Germany, and that was very hard. She'd been with her family and was getting ready to try to start a new life over there. Her life has been blown apart.

"I asked her to keep in touch just to let me know how she's getting on, it gives me a little contact and lets me know she's all right."

Mr Hanz and other members of Dubai's Desert Sports Diving Club were on a weekend live-aboard trip on a dhow when the tragedy happened. He was an expert at technical diving, which involves the use of advanced methods to go much deeper than in recreational diving.

He was using a piece of apparatus called a rebreather rather than the conventional Scuba gear that most divers rely on, and was descending to the wreck of the Sagheera, a Saudi-registered supertanker that sank and split into two sections 22 kilometres from shore after an on-board explosion in January 1989.

The instructor who taught Mr Hanz how to use the rebreather has travelled over from Germany to search for his remains. Achim Schlöffel, the founder of the international training company Inner Space Explorers, spent several days searching the area where Mr Hanz disappeared with help from members of the Dubai club.

"Achim used side-scan sonar to look for the body, but they didn't find it," added Mr Leeman. "They spent three days searching in quite difficult conditions. There was no chance of finding anything, but I think Silke wanted to look.

"Our guys from the club went down to assist. There has been a lot of effort and a lot of goodwill and kind gestures by everybody in the diving community."

The accident happened in Omani waters and was investigated by the Royal Oman Police, but Mr Leeman said the inquiries had ended.

The two buddy divers who were with Mr Hanz were devastated by his loss and were reluctant to return to the water, but both have now done so. However, the group has amended its procedures to try to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

Previously most members of the group had at some time made their way to the surface alone because they were so highly-trained that they did not believe they would be in any danger.

"We're still diving, we haven't stopped, but we've changed our techniques a little bit to make sure we don't leave anyone in the water like that," said Mr Leeman. "If anybody wants to go to the surface we either watch them or go up with them.

"We never, ever thought something like that could happen at that sort of depth. I don't believe there was any negligence or wrongdoing by anybody, it was just an unfortunate accident.

"It just shows that human beings make mistakes, and when they do they can hit back with a vengeance."

csimpson@thenational.ae