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HomeFreedivingClose Call for Renowned Underwater Photographer Fred Buyle

Close Call for Renowned Underwater Photographer Fred Buyle

Michele Monico reports:

Fakara Atoll, South Polynesia

On November 8, 2008, after three weeks of filmingfor a documentary series called  Ocean Quest (more details on, four-timefreediving world record holder Fred Buyle nearly found death when he was runover by a boat speeding at approximately 20 knots in a marked 50-meter radiusdiving zone.

Scuba divers had just started their dive and FredBuyle was still on the surface with his underwater camera in hand when thecollision occurred. He recalls: “Nobody saw or heard it coming. First, thebow hit me on the back across the shoulders from left to right and the forefootof the boat cut a 40 cm wound in my back. After this impact which registered asrather painless, a second one followed shredding my fins. I don’t know how, butmy feet and legs are miraculously intact. The third impact involved my aluminumAquatica underwater camera case which exploded into the propeller, pulling inmy right arm with it. I will forever remember the sound of breaking bones.”

At the surface, in the wake of the speeding boat,Fred Buyle was conscious, despite a bleeding open fracture of the elbow givinghis forearm the distinct look of a three-jointed limb. He had enoughwherewithals to turn at the fleeing boat and yell in its direction. Itspassengers looked back and saw him but the boat continued on its trajectory.

The diving boat quickly pulled Fred Buyle out ofthe water and transported him back to the base camp. Once there, he was stillin the middle of no-where and another 2-hour boat ride away from the nearestdispensary and the airport of the atoll. Imagine the ride in a 7-meterrigid-inflatable boat with bones sticking out of the wetsuit and nopainkillers… This gave him ample time to reflect on the meaning of truephysical pain. Despite his condition, Fred Buyle says he stayed conscious thewhole time and did not go into shock. “I am really surprised about that andthis is probably what contributed to save my life because I insisted that Ikeep my wetsuit on until I was in the hospital. The pressure of the wetsuitkept the wounds closed, preventing excessive bleeding and keeping the bonesfrom moving.”

After this endless boat ride, he was air-lifted toPapeete in a special plane where he was administered antalgic medication, atlast. Upon arrival at the Mamao General Hospital, he headed straight into theoperating room where a team of surgeons awaited him.

Thankfully, Fred Buyle is safe and sound. He wasvery lucky indeed as the wound found on the back of his arm was so deep theartery was exposed, yet intact. He gets away with stiffness and soreness acrosshis back and shoulders; on his right side, a dislocated elbow, an openfracture, a broken radius at the wrist and a severed nerve. Countless stitchesand a cast later, he laughs “From now on, I will ring when going throughairport metal detectors, as there are pins in my elbow and steel plates in mywrist”.

He is now out of the hospital and while he isgrateful to be alive and to have received such great care from the medicalpersonnel, he is unable to return to the water for the next three months,interrupting the filming of the documentary. He will leave Papeete on November21 to return to his home in Bruxelles, Belgium, where he will undergorehabilitation.

His spirits are in good shape. Fred Buyle alreadytalks about his upcoming great white sharks expedition in mid-February 2009.

michele @

November 16, 2008

Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise is the former News Editor for She is based in Dubai.


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