Mystery deaths of two top SA divers

2014-06-19 00:00

A WORLD-RENOWNED diver who discovered coelacanths near Sodwana Bay and his dive partner died in an accident at Umkomaas yesterday.

A well-placed source who asked not to be named, said that the divers had been identified as Adele Stegen and the noted South African diver Peter Timm.

The source said that the two had descended to a depth of 60 metres.

It is understood that during their ascent, Stegen got into difficulty.

“Timm went back to aid her and managed to get her to the rescue boat before he collapsed.”

It is unclear what the purpose of the dive was.

It is understood that Police Search and Rescue unit officers from Durban and Port Shepstone had been deployed to the area by helicopter to search for missing equipment.

Officers recovered several pieces of scientific equipment used during the technical dive.

What remains missing is the personal diving equipment of both Timm and Stegen, who was from Vryheid, vital to determining what went wrong and eventually resulted in their deaths.

This information has been corroborated by a second source.

Timm and Stegen worked at Triton Diving Lodge in Sodwana Bay — where Timm discovered the coelacanths in the Jesser Canyon in 2000.

Dr Mark Botha, chairman of Normal Air Underwater Club in Johannesburg, said he knew Timm very well and described him as a very safe and qualified diver as well as a “great guy”.

Botha said Normal Air had a very strong affiliation with Triton Diving Lodge.

He said Timm and other divers discovered the coelacanths in the Sodwana Bay area in 2000 and the discovery sparked international attention on the area.

Last year, Timm was commissioned by award-winning underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta, who directs Andromede Oceanology in France, to collect more data for the Natural History Museum in Paris.

According to the iSimangaliso website, Ballesta sought out Timm because of his expert knowledge of marine life and diving experience in the area.

Timm also had a CMAS qualification, which meant he belonged to the World Underwater Federation.

The website says that Ballesta raised the finances for the expedition and catalysed new research links between South African scientists and coelacanth researchers from the museum in Paris.

“The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) are leading the research effort, building on previous research undertaken through the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme. The collaborating Parisian scientists have had few opportunities to study living coelacanths and will now be able to combine field data with the results from detailed anatomical and other laboratory-based work on the coelacanth specimens from the National Museum’s collection.”

“I’m in a total state of shock,” Botha said.

“Peter has done so much diving beyond 100 metres plus. He had a massive passion for diving, he even had the CMAS emblem tattooed on his shoulder,” Botha said.

Botha said Peter was well known in diving circles all over the world and had an incredible knowledge about marine life.

Triton Diving Lodge, when contacted yesterday, declined to comment.

Normal Air Underwater Club posted on their Facebook page:

“Terrible news about Peter Timm — RIP Peter, we’ll not forget you.”

The club also left a comment:

“Please also think about Adele Stegen’s family too!

The Vryheid Herald reported in March that Stegen got to see a coelacanth herself this year in March during the Afrox ADG Coelacanths Expedition, under the leadership of Timm.

The paper said she was the first South African woman to see the coelacanth in its natural habitat.

Netcare 911 spokeswoman Santi Steinmann said theirs and other services attended the incident but were unable to rescucitate Timm and Stegen.

“Upon their arrival on scene they found that a man and woman, believed to be in their fifties, tragically lost their lives following the incident.

“Despite all efforts to resuscitate both patients there was nothing else paramedics could do for them.”

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