x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Search for missing freediver extended as family holds out hope

Special team extends search for Emirati free diver who has been missing for eight days off the Greek island or Santorini.

A specialist team yesterday boosted the search for Adel Abu Haliqa, the UAE freediving champion who has been missing for eight days off the Greek island of Santorini.

The 40-year-old father of three disappeared while freediving to a depth of 70 metres off the coast during a training session for an international competition.

His brother, Hussain, 53, travelled to Greece on Thursday and hired a private company based in Athens to help search for Adel after the Greek authorities called off their own search after 72 hours.

The crew arrived in Santorini from Crete on Monday night and started the search yesterday, assisted by a helicopter. "The team has a vessel with a robot that will be submerged and it will have a sonar and an underwater camera," Hussain said. "The robot can go much deeper than the divers, who have limits."

Adel's wife, Nada, 35, last night said the search was still ongoing. "They didn't see anything underwater, which we consider good news. And we are still hopeful," she said.

Last Wednesday, Aida International, one of the sport's two governing world bodies, said the diver had not returned from a training dive for September's Individual Depth World Championship 2011 .

Patrick Musimu, 40, a noted Belgian freediver and one of Adel's trainers, has also travelled to the Greek island to assist Hussain.

Mr Musimu beat the previous "no limit" world record in freediving by almost 40 metres, diving to 209 metres without the use of breathing apparatus on June 30, 2005. He had been planning to visit the island this week to assist in Adel's training.

"I'm trying to understand what happened," he said. "And I'm puzzled that the freediving community is not asking any questions."

In its June 7 report on the case, Aida said the missing diver "appears to have released his safety lanyard at depth, and then separated from the sled".

He had used a weighted sled for several years, and had dived to below 80m, the report said.

"This is very unusual and quite shocking to understand," Mr Musimu said. "He would not release his safety lanyard and I know he's very cautious."

The explanation that Adel released his safety lanyard, or line, was "a bit too fast and too easy", said Mr Musimu. "We're not looking for a dead body and we need to look for different possibilities."

Yesterday, Aida said: "It is with deepest regret that Aida notes the loss of one of its members, Adel Abu Haliqa. Adel was a frequent competitor, and represented the United Arab Emirates at the 2009 Depth World Championships. What caused the diver to become separated from the sled remains unclear. The Greek coastguard was immediately notified, and commenced search operations, but was unable to locate Adel.

"Aida would like to pass its best wishes to Adel's family in this difficult time, and to thank Adel for generously donating his time and efforts for the development of freediving in the Emirates, a country with a long and rich tradition of freediving."

Adel's family still hopes to find him alive.

"I have high hopes that they will find him," his wife Nada said. "We have so many friends from all over the world who are praying and offering words of support."

The couple has two sons, Mohammed and Ali, aged 10 and four, and a daughter, Amna, eight.

rruiz@thenational.ae