Blue Hole - The True Story.

Sep 27, 2009

Blue Hole is a diving location on east Sinai, a few Kilometers north of Dahab, Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea. I have read and hear a lot about this divers paradise. The area has a rich and unique marine life and reef. Diving in a 26 meters tunnel until you see the light again. Unfortunately many divers died trying to reach the tunnel. Lately i read an incredible letter by Yosy Flug  (the first diver to reside full time in sharem-el-sheikh. in 1971). Telling his story about the blue hole as one of the first divers to experience this beautiful yet dangerous site.

What is Blue Hole?  
The Blue Hole is a submarine pothole (a kind of cave), around 130m deep. There is a shallow opening around 6m deep, opening out to the sea and an 26m tunnel, known as the arch, the top of which is 52m. The hole itself and the surrounding area has an abundance of coral and reef fish.

The Blue Hole is notorious for the number of diving fatalities which have occurred there earning it the sobriquet, "World's Most Dangerous Dive Site" and the nickname "Diver's Cemetery". The site is signposted by a sign that says "Blue hole: Easy entry". Accidents are frequently caused when divers attempt to find the tunnel through the reef (known as "The Arch") connecting the Blue Hole and open water at about 52m depth. This is beyond the PADI recreational diving limit (40m) and nitrogen narcosis begins to have an influence. Divers who miss the tunnel sometimes continue descending hoping to find the tunnel farther down and become increasingly narced.

Memorial Site

The "Arch" is reportedly extremely deceptive in several ways:
It is difficult to detect because of the odd angle between the arch, open water, and the hole itself.
Because of the dim lighting and the fact that most light enters from outside, it appears shorter than it really is. Divers report that the Arch appears less than 10m long but measurements have shown it is 26m from one end to the other.
There is frequently a current flowing inward through the arch towards the Blue Hole, increasing the time it takes to swim through.
The arch continues downward to the seabed which is beyond view and there is therefore no "reference" from below.

Divers who resist the temptation of the Arch and remain within their training and limitations are in no more danger than on any other Red Sea dive site. However, the Arch has proved irresistible for many and thus the divesites is considered unsuitable for beginners and a potential trap for even experienced divers.

Divers who want to go through the Arch should ideally be experienced and only attempt it after appropriate training and experience possibly. The equipment that could be used would most likely be multiple compressed air cylinders, as a twin set or tanks may be insufficient for the dive, mixed gases that have reduced nitrogen mixtures ideal for use at depth.

The Egyptian authorities claim that 40 divers have died at this site since records began; however, many local dive guides believe that the authorities are deliberately underestimating the numbers and that there have actually been at least twice that many fatalities.

A famous death in the Blue hole is Yuri Lipski, a Russian diver who died at 91.6 meters below the surface. There are many theories about how he died. Many maintain that he was attacked by a shark or dragged down by an octopus, but these are unlikely. If attacked by a shark, Lipski would have thrashed about. An octopus attack would have been impossible because the only species of octopus strong enough to drag down an adult human, Enteroctopus dofleini, is restricted to the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, nitrogen intoxication sets in below a depth of 30 meters. When diving on standard air at a depth of 90 meters, the narcosis will be so severe that a person can lose all sense of direction. Decisionmaking is severely impaired and there is a great possibility of losing vital equipment such as the breathing apparatus. Yuri Lipski probably died from inexperience and a lack of proper equipment suitable for that depth. It's likely that a combination of narcosis and Oxygen toxicity contributed to his death. So far in 2009 two more divers have been killed diving the Bell and Blue Hole area (both in May).


Yosy's Letter as is: 

"dear friends, since dahab's blue hole became famous as world's
most deadly diving site, it is about time to tell my blue hole tale,
as it really happened. this following account may explain at least
some of the deaths.

a little introduction first: my name is yosy flug. currently am
residing in israel (retired, since 100% disabled, due to accumulated
damage). actually, i happened to be lucky and priviledged to become
the first diver to reside full time in sharem-el-sheikh. in autumn
1971 i abandoned everything i did, and moved to sinai to dive in the
red sea - the love of my life... to support myself i worked as
labourer in "solel bone" construction company, and devoted all my
free time to diving. (thus out of necessity became an expert on night
diving – finishing the working day, sleeping until dinner, and then
taking the tanks and going to dive). occasionally, whenever i could,
i made excursions – first of all, whenever i could i went to to the
most wonderful diving area i have been fortunate to know – ras
muhamad, sinai's most southern tip, but occasionally to other places
too. divers used to come from all over the world to this incredible
domain, quite a few diving expeditions of all kinds, and I used every
opportunity I had to join all diving parties, willingly filling
tanks, carrying equipment – doing anything in order to dive… thus was
blessed by meeting and benefiting from the instructions of some of
the foremost diving experts on the planet – a/o my dear friend, the
wonderful shark lady dr. geni clark... friends told me about the blue
hole in dahab, describing it as a sort of huge hole in the reef, wide
on surface and narrowing until it formed a well, which kept going
deep down. they didn't go beyond 30 meters – the sport divers
accepted limit. but being young and stupid, me and some of
us 'afectionados' in sharem used to go as deep as 80meters or more,
learning slowly and persistently to operate under heavy nitrogen
narcosis. so one day, in 1972, i found myself in in the blue hole… I
was known to be diving mostly alone, and friends respected it. so,
while my companions were exploring slowly the upper area of the reef,
at around 15-20 meters, i decided to go deeper into the well, to see
what is there. i felt very confident at depths of up to 60m, which
was for us in sharem a standard dive depth, with the incredible
visibility and excellent red sea conditions. here at round 30m it
became dark, and i continued easy descent, feeling the first effects
of the "rapture": slightly tipsy feeling, the sound of the breath and
bubbles getting a psychedelic quality, etc… whoever experienced it,
knows. and then i saw below me a dim blue haze. "oh shit, this is
vertigo!" crossed my mind. i have never experienced a vertigo, but
heard a lot of stories from pilot friends. " yeah! i must've turned
upside down!" i thought, and to be sure i took the regulator out and
looked in the near darkness to see the direction of the bubbles. it
was ok. i was not upside down, the light was really coming from
below. i kept descending towards the growing light. and here, at 55
meters was the source of the light, a wide opening under a amazing
arch, leading out to the endless, bottomless blue. i passed under,
and found myself in space. (not an unfamiliar, but always euphoric
experience. i used to take a boat to the middle of naama bay, drop a
weight on 60m rope to serve as reference, and go down just to get
high like a kite on the "nitrogen narcosis", and frolicking in the
endless blue) delighted, i started ascending slowly along the other
side, in this most incredible euphoria, which has actually nothing
to do with being narked - it is for real… later, i chose to tell
about it to very few selected friends. i am pretty certain i was not
the first one to do it – people were diving along the sinai coast
since 1967, right after the war. and most places were accessible from
boats only – the road was not completed until 1971, which made the
coast open to the navy, boat owners, etc. i heard about the blue
hole, but i never heard about this underwater passage.

to make a long story short, in 1976 i was visiting sinai, my beloved
home (at this time i was residing in amsterdam, and working as a
commercial deep sea diver on oil rigs all over he north sea mostly,
free lancing for companies between aberdeen and stavanger, doing
saturation etc). as luck has it, i ran across a friend, aviv, who was
making a research of sinai diving clubs, intending to make a film
about it. since he made his diving course in the u.s while studying
cinematography prompted by my diving stories, i agreed to assist him.
… when we came to dahab, my dear buddy alex was the club manager
(there was only one club there). he was delighted. "yosy, take all
equipment you want and the jeep, and take the guy to the blue hole.
you save me an instructor, and besides i am sure after that he'll
make a film about our club!" (he never did, btw). as we were
preparing to go, we were approached by a guy who said "you are going
to the blue hole? i am eli from dahab, an expert diver - a three-star
dive leader, and i will guide you!" "no thanks, we take no guide. but
if you so much desire, you can come along for the dive" i said, while
alex was laughing his ass off at the idea that someone will guide me…
we were both the "enfants terrible" of the diving federation, known
for accepting no guidance from anyone, and barely accepting the
rules. alex was serious guy, truly great diver. he was a chief diving
instructor of the federation (something which he does until this
day), and i had refused to be an instructor and got the first three-
star "master diver" certificate when the federation was formed some
years before… we came to the hole. as we were preparing for the dive,
i put on aviv my "fenzi mk3", a good diving compensator. at the time
diving compensators were still a scarce and expensive rarity, most
people dived with a simple life vest, inflated by mouth. the fenzi
has an independent 1liter bottle, filled before installing on the
vest from the dive tank, and a flexible hose enabling both to vent (a
purge button) and to blow it up orally. and i also i had my
dear "niconos II" u/v camera. we started descending, easily and
slowly. at around 40m we saw the blue iridescent glow…i went first,
stopped at the arch and checked depth. it was 54meters. then i signed
to aviv and eli to swim under towards the open sea, in order to stay
behind and take a picture… i still have it; quite blurry shadow if
two divers in the middle of the arch against the light blue of the
open sea… as i hear, this is probably the first picture taken in the
passage. then i followed them, passed the arch to check the depth. i
saw them some meters below me, slowly working the fins watching the
space and looking at the incredible sight of bubbles rising to the
well visible, shimmering glass roof of the surface… and i froze. the
gauge showed 65meters, meaning they were at more then seventy meters
depth at least, and obviously sinking in spite of their upright
position. i realized what happened, run down towards them marking
urgently with both thumbs "up, up!". i got two very stoned and happy
grins, and a "thumbs up". i checked the gauge. we were passing 80m,
and i started to feel my brain is numbing from the narcosis… i
grabbed aviv and signed "up!" with my free hand. he tried to push my
hand away, so wasting no time i turned him around, grabbed and held
forcibly from behind with my left hand, while at the same time
opening his fenzy bottle with my right. instinctively i also held the
inflation hose with the purge button in my left hand, to prevent a
blow-up, and looked at the depth gauge, while he was still struggling
trying to fight me off, not understanding what came upon me… the
gauge showed 83m, and like in a nightmare we kept descending, slowly…
i was working my fins as hard as possible up and towards the reef, so
that that aviv will see it and, having a point of reference, and
understand that we sink. the descent stopped at around 84-5 meters,
and we started finally to ascend, though at nightmarishly slow
pace. "as soon as we get to around forty, i will stick aviv to the
reef and run down to look for eli 'the expert', but not below
100meters. i will not come up without aviv, my diving buddy – it is
either both or none – but i ain't gonna kill myself for this guy!
sorry." were the thoughts running through my mind, while we slowly
but surely went up. when we reached about 60m, aviv gradually
stopped struggling and all my effort was directed to swimming towards
the reef. then i looked down and realized the reason for the ghoulish
rate of ascent: eli grabbed aviv's leg, and was holding on to it …
bless the fenzi, it managed to lift three full grown men with all the
gear to safety. in the meantime we came to the reef, and ascended
properly, stopping first at six meters, even though i planned the
dive as 60 meters for five minutes, which needs no decompression
stops t all – allowing direct 3 minutes ascent to the surface. after
five minutes we ascended to another stop, finishing the air at three
meters. in the meantime we enjoyed the beautiful reef, full of life,
and i took pictures with the niconos…
when we came out of water, aviv was pissed like hell. "what came upon
you, yosy? are you mad? why did you attack me and forced to go up?
you could tell me! why the f**k all this violence?!" he kept
shouting. eli, on the other hand, was experienced enough to realize
the danger we were in. "aviv, kiss the ground and yosy's feet – he
saved our lives!" he told aviv, but he was not convinced. "why this
f**king violence!
you could have sign me! i am not a child! you just panicked!" "but I
did sign you, but you did not react! i had no choice!" i tried to
reason with him, and eli too – but aviv insisted. "you just
panicked!" "alright, as you wish. of course i did. as long as we are
all safely up. i gave up the discussion. (hehehe btw,
about two years ago we happened to sit a whole afternoon in a rare
gathering of old friends and companions, drinking and remembering all
kinds of adventures, and someone came up with the story. aviv said
(this is forty years after the whole escapade): "ok, yosy. i am only
upset because of one thing. how did you dare to take me, a new and
inexperienced diver, to the blue hole, a real death trap? what gave
you the right to do that?" "the same right by which you are sitting
here safely with us and can have all those pretensions!" i replied.
the gang agreed, and eventually even aviv said "yeah, right. that's
true. apparently you did have the right. but you did not have to be
so violent!".

as soon as i reached tel aviv, i went to the diving federation and
had a meeting with the guys, most of whom i knew. i told them the
story, warned and explained why this dive is so dangerous. most
divers have no experience in deep diving, and are heavily influenced
by the "rapture of the deep" at such depth. when they pass under the
arch, they find themselves, for the first time in life for most of
them, in a bottomless open sea. this is heaven – endless blue, all
shades from nearly white on the surface, to nearly black looking
down. along the feeling of euphoria, coming from "having done it"
they have also an expansive feeling of safety. all around is
transparent and clear, open space with the surface shimmering above…
and in the meantime, their neoprene suits are squeezed to 1
millimeter thickness, losing all buoyancy, and the compensating lead
weights are now a pure ballast. one has to exhort oneself much, and
work really hard to rise in such conditions. the relative pressure
increase is minimal and not felt, and they are convinced that they go
up, relaxed and easy while they are really sinking. the deeper the
more intoxicated/stoner, they keep sinking at a faster pace, and we
all know what happens around 100 meters, when the oxygen pp reaches
two bars… they have no chance. i suggested putting in the middle of
the arch a sign saying "stop! balance yourself!" in all languages,
and at the least mandatory explaining the dangers and a need to
balance to every diver that comes to the area. but the federation
heads said "yosy, this is out of the question. as far as the
federation goes this is not a diving site at all. it does not exist.
it is forbidden to dive there at all – the maximum depth, even for
instructors, is 50m. "at least warn and explain it to all the
instructors and assistants, and old three-star divers. make it a
standard instruction in dahab club, at least" "no way! this matter is
not to be discussed at all, even mentioned. it is forbidden to dive
there, period! and please, yosy, do not talk about it at all!" "i do
not, unless i am asked – but people do dive there (told them about
eli the expert guide, and others) and will continue, and there will
be an accident!" "c'mon, yosy, a law is a law. that's it. you want us
to explain how to break the law?!" (israel is the only country i know
of in which diving regulations are accepted as an official country
law under the penal system, and any breach is a punishable offence)
"but people will keep diving there for sure. would you rather have
law obeying corpses then live law offenders?" but no argument helped.
i returned to amsterdam, and after some years started hearing more
and more about deadly blue hole accidents… at the last count, as I
was told, the blue hole took 130 lives so far...

may those be the last, and there will be no more accidents. and,
hopefully, may the above account help to save some lives...


in love

Sun Jul 6, 2008"

Blue Hole Bottom  

 Blue Hole Extreme narcosis



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