A German visitor died this week in a diving accident at Bikini Atoll, the first diver to die since the former nuclear test site was opened to scuba divers in 1996. The 75-year-old diver is reported to have died Monday afternoon after he separated from a group that was diving on the World War II naval wrecks on Bikini’s lagoon floor.
While experienced Bikini dive master Edward Maddison and two other visiting divers descended toward the USS Saratoga aircraft carrier Monday, they said diver Hans Erich Volborth took off on his own to the wreck and they lost sight of him, according to Martin Daly, whose company manages diving at Bikini. “Edward went looking for him but couldn’t find him,” said Daly. Volborth did not surface and after the other divers completed their dive, Maddison searched again without luck.
A search resumed Tuesday and Volborth’s body was located by late morning on the lagoon floor next to the USS Saratoga. “A download of his dive profile (from Monday’s dive) showed him pausing at 20 feet, then descending to deck level of the Saratoga, then he went up quickly (to near the surface), then went back down,” said Daly, who said he suspects the diver may have suffered “a medical incident of some sort, possibly a heart attack or stroke” while in the water. Daly said the diver’s tanks were 75 percent full of air when recovered.
Bikini Liaison Jack Niedenthal said the incident was the first time that a diver has lost his life at the northern atoll since divers started visiting the atoll beginning in 1996. Daly noted that all divers, including Volborth, are required to show medical clearances before they can dive at Bikini. Daly said the dive masters working for him at Bikini do their best to “baby sit” visiting divers to make sure they follow all safety rules, but occasionally situations develop with divers refusing to adhere to group dive rules, as was the case earlier this week.
Daly chartered AMI to fly a coffin and a Majuro hospital nurse to Bikini Wednesday to return the body to Majuro for embalming.
In 2010, Bikini was named a World Heritage site for its historic role in the first post-World War II nuclear weapons tests by the United States, which ultimately tested 24 nuclear weapons at Bikini. The second test in 1946 was an underwater blast that used US and Japanese naval vessels as targets. Among the many vessels sunk by the “Baker” nuclear test were the USS Saratoga aircraft carrier and the Japanese battleship Nagato, which was the flagship for Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during World War II.
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