Pursuing the road less traveled – asking the difficult questions

Editors note: With the tragic loss of Audrey on Oct 12, many in the freediving community are still in a state of shock and grieving. Now the process of asking difficult questions need to be addressed. There needs to be clear answers as to what happened and accountability put upon whomever was responsible for Audrey’s loss of life. Was negligence on the part of the organization sponsoring the record attempt the cause of Audrey Mestre’s death? Or was it a natural result of the hazards of this extreme sport. This and other questions need to be asked – and answered

The tragic death of french freediver Audrey Mestre’ during her fatal world record attempt in the Dominican Republic on October 12 has brought to light many questions that have yet to be answered – or aren’t being answered fully or truthfully.

What has been officially reported by the various media outlets as to what happened is beginning to bring to light and contradict what actually occurred based upon sources and witnesses who were close to this tragic event. This has been verified and confirmed by sources whom I have been in contact with.

This tragedy and the true causes are beginning to allude to a possible misrepresentation/misleading attitude that might be construed by others as a cover up. Is there a cover up? – or have all the facts not been released that will absolve the IAFD of any wrong doing.

Why hasn’t the IAFD, who were the organizers, and thus, the organization that is accountable and responsible for all aspects of this world record attempt, not been willing to face an increasingly inquiring and demanding public and grant full disclosure on all documentation, videos, witnesses, sworn testimonials, etc. that would address the various inconsistencies and versions of what occurred, even though several days have passed since the accident?

How many actual safety divers were there?

Witnesses have stated that Audrey’s husband, Francisco "Pipin" Ferreras, taking a scuba tank and swimming downwards to 120 meters on compressed air to rescue Audrey, who was allegedly being held unconscious after a blackout at 120 meters. This has been confirmed by an "unidentified" safety diver who should be brought forward as a hero and publicly recognized by this. Why were there no other safety divers present? This source has also put only a single safety diver at 85 meters and one at the surface. This eludes to this attempt being done with no possibility of intervention until the next safety diver, reported to be at 85 meters.

It appears that no one else as a safety diver was present in the water at the particular depth where the accident took place. Clear disclosure about this allegation needs to be confirmed so that it will finally put this to rest and if so, a defense with any contradictory statement from witnesses can be carried out.

A statement was made on the IAFD’s website that during all of Audrey’s training sessions leading up to her record attempt, which were reported personally by IAFD President Carlos Serra, () that he clearly stated that there were only three (3) divers in the water – the official surface safety diver Tata, plus two others in the water, Eduardo Orjales "Wicky" and French diver Pascal Bernabe, but NOT an official surface judge or other safety divers at the IAFD regulation depth intervals – although there were many on the support boat observing the training sessions and previous deep dives – which in essence were as dangerous as the fatal final one! This raises another unanswered question – Why wasn’t the full safety team placed in the water during practice dives even though the depths were very close to or almost that of the record day, involving the same risks?

There was to be thirteen (13) safety divers in the water – what were there names, certification numbers and agencies, assigned diving depth and written protocol that must have been made on every dive and especially on the day of the record attempt? These requirement are made in the "Regulation for Homologation of Records Attempts" published by the IAFD . Without this disclosed information, it begins to appear as though this information may have been incorrectly reported to the media. It is common practice to plan the logistics of an event like this for the in-water support divers so that as the adage goes "Plan your dive, Dive your plan".

Again, the ambiguity regarding how many safety divers were actually in the water column along the descent line. Current official reports state that 13 were in the water – yet that would put a diver every 13.3 meters apart for the attempted distance. IAFD Regulations require a diver every 20 meters, which means Audrey would have been observed during her attempt to a potential depth of 260 meters based upon initial statements given by the IAFD. These statements were corroborated by the main sponsor of the event, MARES’ Jeff Blumenfeld. who used vague and unspecified terms as "Something happened down there", or "we believe she struck something on her way up". These quoted, ambiguous statements are widely available from various media resources and have not changed in the following 5 days on the Internet as well as many newspapers that have printed them, which are available for verification purposes by readers of this article via http://news.google.com

Based upon the assertion that there were 13 safety divers in attendance and in the water for this record attempt, since many of these divers were putting themselves at great risk by diving as deep as many of them were going to be, why wasn’t a portable decompression chamber available if, after all, there were 13 safety divers along a very, very deep 171 meter, high risk long diving line? The risk of severe decompression illness would have necessitated this having been incorporated into the event’s management plan. Another question comes in play here "What was the actual number of Nitrox or Trimix divers that were to be posted at the different depths that forbid the use of plain compressed air scuba tanks?

Was there a trained staff physician present for the event?

Various media outlets have reported that there apparently was a staff physician present during this accident. Why hasn’t the name and signed affidavit of this staff physician been released? No apparent medical staff were visible in the videos shown by the media and witnesses of the event which seems to contradict the official statements made by the IAFD.

Further investigation regarding an attending staff physician on the support boat has revealed so far that there wasn’t a staff physician on board the boat during the record attempt. Instead, as the rescuers were carrying Audrey’s body on a lounge chair (why wasn’t a stretcher used for just such an emergency?) it was overheard that they were screaming for someone to find a doctor. Apparently a Viva Resort guest, who happened to be a doctor, came running out of the resort just in time to see that she was dead. Why wasn’t a properly equipped staff physician (also a requirement for IAFD Record Homologation Procedure) on the boat supporting the record attempt to specifically address the potential of something like this happening – which it did?

Additionally, why was there no apparent coordination with emergency services – ie; ambulances or with port authorities present and readily available egress points over land from the diving location as required by the IAFD’s own regulations? **(New information has stated that it took over 2 hours to get Audrey to a hospital)**

As certified rescue personnel will agree to, proper rescue and safety equipment for any medical emergency is mandatory during an event of this scale – my sources have stated that there was no appropriate medical equipment, if needed, in this record attempt – for example, a $289 Heart Defibrillator – which is available and can be purchased through the Divers Alert Network to those who are qualified to use this type of rescue equipment.

Was the rescue timely enough?

Regarding the method of transporting Audrey back to shore – the issue of the "high speed" rescue boat is coming into question – What was the actual speed capabilities of this rescue boat? Reports indicate it was nothing more than a 17 foot dinghy (clearly visible in the published video released to certain segments of the media) with a single small sized outboard engine that was reported to have taken her back to shore. This boat was crowded with Pipin, Audrey’s body and 5 other occupants – and took 30 to 40 minutes to reach the shore. This has been publicly stated by a Dominican journalist present at the record attempt in an interview, rich and abundant in detailed descriptions, with a well known Spanish radio sport’s commentator from Spain and clearly visible on the video taken by a journalist during the subsequent rescue attempt after Audrey was brought back to surface.

History repeats itself?

It has also been revealed to me by these sources that there have been two (2) confirmed previous fatalities during record attempts involving safety divers of the IAFD. Massimo Bertoni and Jose Fernandez, whose deaths have been the subject of multiple unanswered questions, as well as speculation, have many similarities to this current accident. And yet, there hasn’t been sufficient disclosure to the public regarding the final outcome of any investigations regarding these support divers deaths. Simply put, no questions were posed at that time, the original unconfirmed statement for this tragedy was accepted at "face value".

We need to know the truth

These are difficult questions that need to be answered – and what may come to the surface may not be what we truly want to have to face.

Instead of playing it safe and just accepting whatever is told to us by the media, which was simple repetition of an original statement with no independent corroboration or follow up made immediately after the death of Audrey Mestre, the hard questions need to be asked.

And they need to be answered. Immediately.

Why?

The freediving world is in a state of grieving at this senseless loss. Full clarification of the facts that led to this grieving in the first place, and the simple possibility of a recurrent tragedy happening to any other freedivers – male or female, needs to be made public so as to try and prevent this from happening again.

Cliff Etzel

Cliff is the former Freediving editor of DeeperBlue.com. He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.

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