"You’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to really want to do it and I think I got into deep diving because of the wrecks.... The wrecks I wanted to dive were deeper than what anyone else was doing and the depth came as a result of it but you’ve got to truthfully want to do it. If there is any doubt in your mind you know you shouldn’t be doing it, you’ve got to want to do it and you’ve got to be doing it for the right reason."
“The wrecks I’ve dived are very difficult to describe, the way it feels. The people on the ship, the people who fought there and you’re not just swimming along, I guess passion which I guess is the word, I got a real passion... I mean the thought of diving down just a wreck it’s got a history and you get into learn about a wreck, you are swimming along a part of history and it’s just great.. "When we went to search for Yamashiro, there were 4 of us, we took a small boat, a bunker, as we call it in the Philippines¡¬, and we found this wreck just 7 minutes before we were ready to dive up! Can you imagine? I even didn’t have a time to dive it¡¬ but I’ll come back, I definitely will!”
I “cannot imagine”… I am smiling. I am in my house Greenwich, with my guests. My two “champs” the deepest men on Earth, Jim Bowden and John Bennett. I was looking forward to meeting them for a long time. I am very excited, and because of this I’m interviewing them myself.
“John, you’re the World deepest dive record holder, do you have a “dream”?
“Oh yeah! I do…I want to dive Yamashiro!”
I met John Bennett in 2003. He had piercing blue eyes, and did not look like a champion in my “understanding”. Those who usually babble a lot that it was not a real record and that they too could dive to 330 or 350 meters are caddishly confident people, and I would even say they are to a certain degree obnoxious. Those aspiring champions are braggarts, and timidity isn’t their forte.
Bennett was different. It’s hard to say why. Perhaps it was because of old complexes, or maybe it was really part of his personality. John Bennett always seemed shy, as if he was mbarrassed of his achievements. Well, a man dives to 305 meters, but what’s there to be so stuck up about? He was an attentive interlocutor, had a brilliant sense of humor, was benevolent and easy-going, and was always ready to help. He was so strange. We met in my home. I had also invited Jim Bowden, a former deep dive record holder. That’s when they finally met each other. One of the divers in New York asked John:
“So you’re the world champion John Bennett?”
“Never mind me,”- answered John. “This is Jim, he’s the real one.”
“May I shake your hand?” - The diver asked John.
“And don’t you forget Jim”-, worried Bennett.
Without a doubt, John Bennett was well loved by those who knew him and by those who had met him just once. “Look, what a nice guy! A champion, but talks to regular people as if they were friends and he’s not at all stuck-up”
“And so,why did you need it? Those 305 meters? All that suffering, those challenges. Were they worth what you had to go through?”
“They were,” - John Bennett bashfully cast his eyes down. “Why? What for?” "I wouldn’t let go. Because now I can dive to the Yamashiro” - unexpectedly admitted John.
“And before you couldn’t have?” - I have to add that it’s not too easy to get rid of me.
“I could”, - replied Bennett. Well, you see, it requires money and sponsors. It’s easier to get sponsors help after you have become a champion, than before”. And I had expected revelations about mysteries of the deep sea that entice and beguile akin to the depths of human soul!"
I thought that at that moment a man imagined himself to be truly the son of man but akin to God, but instead he told me that prosaic stuff about the Yamashiro and the sponsors. I took a deep breath and understood that John Bennett wouldn’t say another word about his record, at least, nothing that others didn’t already know about it.
“Well, good,” - I shrugged.
I didn’t feel like hearing about the Yamashiro again. I wanted to talk about his World Record Dive. That’s when my devious female ability to manipulate came to the rescue:
“Last question, John, were you afraid?”
“No”, - he quietly replied. “I wasn’t afraid,but I felt bad”. Something in his voice gave me confidence to strike.
“I mean down there, at the depth of 300-plus meters. What? You weren’t afraid one little bit?” John Bennett became visibly nervous.
“May I have a cigarette, please?”
Generally, he didn’t smoke. I handed him a pack of Marlboro ultra lights.
“Turn off the camera, please”.
The camera stopped filming right away. I knew that our agreement was more important than anything. I also knew that I was about to hear something that, sorry to have the gall to say, something that none of his closest friends would have heard. I soaked in his every word, and not because I wanted to talk or write about it. At the time, I didn’t even have any plans for it and couldn’t have had any. I simply wanted to know what a person felt down below.
“Afraid is not exactly the right word,” - said John. “Fear is… not”
Me: “Then why did you ascend so fast? And what about this vertigo at 60 meters? You missed one of the deep stops. Didn’t you have enough bottom gas? Or did you simply think dear oh, dear, what am I doing here?!!”
John: “We-e-ell,¬ something like that. While you’re descending to the scheduled depth, it’s not scary. We had fastened a light to the camera. I saw the light, and there it was, our goal, and so I wasn’t afraid at all, especially since I felt good. But when you look up, and don’t see any light, that’s when you become afraid. Not in the sense that I started to shake in panic. If I had, I wouldn’t have been sitting here. But my state was close to panic; it was kind of horrible. And I had to go back and go back alive.”
Me: “And what were you thinking about?”
John: “About kissing the kids and leaving them. And besides I had promised to play with them on the weekend. And what would happen to them if I didn’t come back? It was a moment of despair, the kind that one had to control. I WILL RETURN, I must. No one has forced me to come here. And now, go up, and no more moaning or complaining. And then I was in pain, in a lot of pain, do you understand?!”
Some people here were saying that even if Bennett had established a record, big deal. All he did was clenched the rope between his teeth, and he barely survived!
"I couldn’t hold back without selling out Mark Andrews.
“A-ha! Did Mark Andrews tell you that?” - Bennett smiled slyly.
I demurely cast my glance down. Well, I wasn’t going to sow discordbetween former friends who had already had a fight.
“I did clench and how, - continued Bennett. “With both hands and teeth”. “There was no other way. To deep dive is no big deal, but to return that’s it”.
“And is it true that your buddy, Ron Loos, lifted you to 60 meters from 100 meters while you were unconscious?” - I ventured.
“No. It’s not true,” - Bennett replied quietly.°I have all the tapes with me. The whole dive. It’s true I almost lost my consciousness at 60 meters. Vertigo and such. And it can be seen on the tape, but you can tell I was conscious. I overcame vertigo, and felt much better.”
“And how long were you out of it?”
“I don’t remember. Two hours, at least…”
“And then it was really bad, I was in a lot of pain. Do you understand? I had an IV going…”
“And are you going to deep dive like that again?”
“No. Why?” – John’s eyes express genuine surprise.
“So why did you dive then?” - Sometimes, I can be downright unbearable.
“Because I want to dive Yamashiro.”
So there you have it, as the Russian proverb goes: “Here’s the tool, and here’s the object, and so we begin again” - I thought. And what does he want with that Yamashiro?
I said: “OK, John. Thank you very much. I hope I haven’t exhausted you. Well, should we go to a restaurant? Otherwise, Jim and I are already starving, and it’s time to feed the cameramen too. Or those poor guys”
Let’s go, - John sighed with relief. “It’s late already, and I have to fly home to Australia tomorrow.”
The day before, John Bennett and Jim Bowden visited a dive shop in New York. John Bennett and Jim Bowden entered the building of the dive center, a club located by the ocean shore. Jeff, a former policeman and now a scuba diver and the owner of this shop that sells scuba diving gear, welcomed our guests. He showed them the ships he had found in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Jeff: “And this one, it was sitting at more than a 100 feet below... And you, guys, how deep do you dive?” Silence hung in the air.
“1,100 feet” - whispered John Bennett, barely audible.
Jeff: “Pardon me! I didn’t get it”.
John: “1,100 feet.”, - His voice was more assured, but he still felt uncomfortable.
Jeff: “Far out! So it’s you, the world champion in deep diving? Are you John Bennett? Well, come on; let me shake your hand!”
John: “No, please first shake Jim’s hand. He was the champion before me, and he is the real one. And I…”
Jeff: “Come on, hurry up, and take a picture of us together, I mean of them and me! Well, now I’ll be bragging to everyone about whom I’ve met! Go figure, Jim Bowden and John Bennett!”
Flashes go off, “PTCHING!”, - camera whirls, and everyone smiles. I also smile now, watching this video footage perhaps for the hundredth time. This happens only once in a lifetime: my crew and I were together with our friends, the world champions.
It was October 2003, and in December I already admitted to Bennett that I wanted to finance his Yamashiro dive, and that I wanted to film his dive to the Yamashiro. I received my last e-mail from Bennett at the beginning of March 2004:
“So it looks like we’ll be meeting in Palau (Micronesia) on March 24th. We’ll discuss the submersion to the Yamashiro. I can’t do it any earlier. Circumstances prevail. But, damn it, I’m terribly happy that everything is coming together and this project will happen. You have no idea how happy I am. If you need anything, please write to me. I’m teaching a course now, advanced trimix, diving in the Philippines, and then -- on to Australia. If you want to join my group of students before Micronesia, please let me know. I’ll be in touch. Regards, John.”
Before Micronesia, I went to Thailand, and then, on March 15th, exactly nine days before our scheduled meeting I heard the news:
Technical diving portal, TDI instructor Ivan Gorbatenko writes:
“On March 15th, 2004, John Bennett died during a commercial dive to a sunken ship in South Korea. According to his buddy, they underwent submersion to 45 meters. The water temperature was 7 degrees and the visibility 1-2 meters. They used a breathing mix that contained 29% helium. The time that they were going to spend at the bottom was supposed to be 20 minutes, and the total submersion time was set for 73 minutes. John’s partner noticed his unusual behavior. To the question if he was OK, John responded in the affirmative. Nevertheless, his behavior remained strange and his buddy gave a signal to resurface. John confirmed the signal. His buddy began to resurface, however when he turned around a little later he saw that John was not there behind him. His partner returned, but didn’t find John, so he continued his ascend. At the decompression station, he noticed ascending air bubbles coming from below him that later ceased. After he resurfaced, he informed the project supervisor that John was missing. One more diver was sent on a search mission. The search continued for 20 minutes, but was fruitless. After that, they looked for John on the surface for a few hours, but never found him.”
I’d like to add that it’s quite a story. On March 15th, 2004, John Bennett, a world champion in deep diving, the first scuba diver to break a 300-meter barrier, and to conquer the depth of 305 meters, disappeared under rather mysterious circumstances near the South Korean shores. Since then, specifically since 2004, no new information was found and not a word was added to the above told story: South Korea; the ship that had sunk a few miles from (¡-.); the ice-cold water with zero visibility, the depth of 45 meters; and John Bennett, the hero and idol of all scuba divers, who disappeared without a trace.
The John Bennett memorial buried the perished champion in absentia. The search for his body turned up no results, and his wife and two children didn’t receive a cent from the insurance company. Without his body there was no proof that he was dead, and if there was no proof, it meant that he was not “deceased” but “missing”. And so according to the law, one was obliged to wait another 4 years. If he doesn’t show up, then he’s definitely dead and only then. In the meantime, Gabrielle Harris together with ten-year-old Joshua and eight-year-old Katie were forced to leave their home, because they didn’t have the money to regularly pay the mortgage. So they now live with friends.
Every year, on March 7th, the late John’s birthday, Gaby buys a cake. The kids prefer chocolate one. And they light the candles: So: John turned forty-five then, in 2004, a week before he left for that wreck in Korea to never return. And so, forty-six candles went up in 2005, and forty-seven in 2006.
Happy Birthday, John! You’re still alive for us, even today, on March 7th, 2006, you turn forty-seven. Would have turned.
On March 15th, the family came to the established monument-memorial, and placed flowers on the tomb, which contains no body. And after mourning their lost husband and father, they returned home, to be precise, to what they call “home” now.
Ten-year-old Joshua exclaimed: “What if he is really alive!”
“Of course he was alive”, - I thoughtlooking at the boy who was a spitting image of his father. It was enough for him to glance in the mirror once to realize that his fther was still alive. Have a look; you and your father are ike two peas in a pod. But Katie had a different point of view: “No, he’s dead, because he’s not with us. If he were alive, he would have found us, he would have returned to us already, and since he hasn’t then it means he…” It means that’s he was lost. Forever, There, by Korean shores, on a sunken ship with unknown name, at a depth of 45 meters, and perhaps not even at 45. But what difference does it make now? He has never been found, regardless.
John Bennett was born in Great Britain, on March 7th, 1959. His biography is an ordinary biography of an ordinary man. His parents were divorced. At seventeen, he joined the army and jumped with parachute. Then, after the army, his career left much to be desired: he worked as a guard, standing by the doors of one of the fashionable London night clubs, but simply put (in our own Russian vernacular) he was a bouncer. He was into bodybuilding and steroids. His muscles were not so much pumped by constant physical challenges as by pumping steroids. It helped scare away the slight-built Englishmen who were trying to get into the halls of the night club for free, as well as the argumentative clients who didn’t want to pay the entrance fee or refused to leave on time. That’s when John’s help was required, and he would inflict horror with his flexing muscles on the rampant hooligans. And it would have been fine, only it wasn’t enough. And besides, an unpleasant incident occurred. To be precise, I can’t tell exactly who, where, and when, but someone beat up John and rather badly.
The career of a bouncer had never appealed to John, and after the incident it became entirely repulsive to him. Then, there was the Broadmoor Psychiatric Clinic where John was hired to moonlight as an orderly. Broadmoor was not your ordinary psychiatric hospital, but a facility for the criminally insane committed by the court to the highest degree of punishment in English understanding, i.e. life confinement. The convicted, mostly serial killers, rapists of minors, and other criminals whom the court found sane were sent to prisons to serve their life terms, but those who managed to prove their insanity, were sent to the Broadmoor Psychiatric Clinic, where they remained under the supervision of the orderlies, including John Bennett. Is there any need to explain what it meant to supervise this kind of prime maniacs? But this job at the clinic was well paid.
However, John Bennett failed to withstand this trial by the psychiatric hospital. Instead, he took off on an adventure, and traveled to Australia and the Philippines. In Australia, John Bennett took a course in open-water diving, or a beginner’s diving course. Eighteen meters was the maximum depth, and finally there it was, the long-desired dream: a different world, a parallel world, a virtual reality, and a perfect silence. The unearthly splendor of the underwater world allowed one to forget the imperfections of our world. Virtual reality substituted for reality, without a doubt.
John Bennett had found his own world where he wanted to live and… die. Shocked by his discovery, John Bennett decided to launch a career as a professional scuba diver. Deep submersions to sunken ships truly became his passion. But the rookie diver didn’t have it easy. He had to get rid of extra weight, condition his body appropriately, and all that required strict discipline: no cigarettes or beer, regular visits to the sports club, physical challenges, and training.
It is well known that professionals require a lot of experience, and so 90% of his time was taken up by submersions. And so: dive, dive, and dive again, regardless of where. The only thing that mattered was how. But John Bennett had willpower to spare. Less than a few years would pass, and John Bennett would acquire a name and a world reputation of a man whose perpetual desire was to establish new records. His motif? We’ll consider this issue later.
John moved to Australia, a country not exactly suitable for conquering sea depths. Northern Australia, Queensland County, the location of the legendary Barrier Reef, is not just bad, but a disaster for deep diving. The maximum depth is thirty meters, and so one has to either take a boat out into the open sea for about 10 hours, which is not so easy financially, or go to the lakes. The depth in some of the lakes in the area of Port Douglas reaches down to 70-80 meters. It’s pretty uncomfortable in the cold fresh water, and visibility there is almost zero, besides, that kind of a site is not too close. So John Bennett decided to move to the Philippines together with his wife, Gabriella Harris and their son Joshua. The country welcomes this kind of activity. It is a true paradise for novices. As for the accomplished divers and researchers of marine depths, there is a whole collection of wrecked ships that sunk during WWII, and are located from 10 meters deep to 120, and sometimes down to 250 meters.
John Bennett became a professional PADI instructor, then TDI instructor. He trained students who came from different countries of the world in different forms of diving, from open-water diving to wreck dives and technical dives, and to deep dives to 100 meters on mixed gases with helium. The career of a diving instructor requires certain sacrifices. If you want to become famous, try to get into movies or television, if not television, then at least into magazines and newspapers. Then, more glory means more advertising, and more advertising leads to more students. That’s business for you.
John Bennett and Gaby had a daughter, Katie. He needed to support his famly, but even in a relatively cheap country as the Philippines one had to work hard. The decision to become a champion was, on one hand, a purely pragmatic decision, but on the other, was motivated entirely by professional interests. A previous world champion, the famous conqueror and researcher of deep water caves, American Jim Bowden, made a record dive in 1994 to a depth of 278.2 meters on an open-circuit scuba in a place called Zacaton (Mexico).
Zacaton is nothing but a collapsed karsts cave that goes as deep as 314 meters, and is filled with fresh water. It is a so-called sinkhole. It is a mysterious name that is hard to translate into Russian. In Russian “sink” - means to “sink” and of course “hole - is translated as a “hole” So sinkhole can be translated as a sunken hole or the hole of a drowned stranger or a collapsed hole. Although it is a tautology, because if it is a hole then obviously it is an indentation, but lets leave this issue to the geologists and philologists.
On April 14, 1994, at dawn, a world known scuba diver, Jim Bowden, the famous explorer of the cave systems, and his legendary buddy, world recognized deep cave diver Sheck Exley, set on the road to Zacaton for a submersion to 300 meters. It was a planned record, but still unprecedented, incredible, and unheard of. The experiment was almost “laughably simple”. The goal was to prove that people could submerge to that kind of depths if they used so-called mixed gases: oxygen, nitrogen and helium in certain proportions. Plus, obviously the time required for decompression stops exceeded all possible limits. After that kind of submersion, the diver had to decompress for something like eight hours, at least, and underwater. God forbid he would do it on the surface, then, he would die from the Caisson disease or as they say in English Decompression sickness. Daring? Sure!
The couple submerged at dawn, using two independent cables slightly separated from each other, so that down at 90 meters they could still observe with jealousy, which one of them was faster. The 90-meter mark was left behind, and there each of them was, all alone in complete pitch darkness, face to face with Zacaton, the black bottomless hole. Jim Bowden would soon realize that he couldn’t surpass the limit of 300 meters. The bottom mix was literally melting in front of his eyes. He could have risked, but why? There was only 1% in a 100 that he could make it to the surface. Bowden made a decision to immediately begin his ascent. The hell with 300 meters. Sheck would definitely beat the record; besides, he had more experience and was luckier. Jim Bowden returned to the surface alone. Sheck’s body was brought up on the third day, but only because he wrapped a rope around his body and tied himself to the cable. The computer indicated 270 meters. The equipment was in working condition, and the pressure in one of the tanks with bottom mix was a little low, yet not at deadly levels. So what happened?
We can only guess now, because no one will know the truth any more, and we can theorize all we want regarding the central nervous system and high pressure nervous syndrome, and the so-called blackouts (a complete or partial loss of sight). Everyone who knew Sheck experienced a profound sense of loss. John Bennett, at the time still an inexperienced diver, underwent his first shock, because Sheck Exley was his idol, a person who was a role model for many scuba divers who wanted to emulate him, including John Bennett. It seemed that enough had happened to make one stop and reconsider if it was worth repeating that experiment.
However, the question whether it was necessary to do it was decided for John Bennett. The answer was yes. Absolutely! If a scuba diver dies at such a depth, it’s not enough reason to stop deep diving in fear of consequences. On the contrary, it motivates one to find the right and safe method for such submersions. And still Jim Bowden was there. To help John with his advice any time. For John Bennett it meant that it was necessary to change the cause, and then the effect would be different. The cause was in the wrong mix. John Bennett and his already then close team of assistants switched to the use of large proportions of helium, a gas that divers before then not just feared or were suspicious of, but practically fled from as if from a plague. No one had properly investigated the consequences of the use of large proportions of helium. They did make a note that despite clear presence of mind and memory at the depth of more than 150 meters, a scuba diver starts getting the so-called tremor, a nervous system syndrome when the extremities shake like the extremities of a Parkinson’s sufferers. And with the increase of depth, the whole body begins to vibrate, leaving no hope to the person of ever having a chance of controlling this outrage, and especially stopping it. But in nature, everything is balanced and analyzed: stopping the tremor was absolutely possible. To stop it, one either had to stop submersion and resurface or not to deep dive at all, which in our case was impossible.
To the question: “To dive or not to dive?” - John Bennett answered in the affirmative: to dive.
In 1999, he submerged to the depth of 254 meters. This record was set for the first time in open water, or in our vernacular in salt water, in the sea. Currents, weather conditions, and other things made sea dives rather difficult compared to caves. Nevertheless, Bennett returned to the surface alive and well. The mixes he had chosen worked and it gave him new impetus for different kinds of experiments, for example, diving to wrecks such as a giant liner, the “Princess of Orient”, that is buried at a depth of 120 meters in the Bay of Ormoc, (have to check) in the Philippines. This was John Bennett’s real dream. Wrecks were his true passion. And if his helium theory worked, then it meant that he would be able to submerge to the sunken ships that lie at the depths that were inaccessible for a regular diver at 120, 150, 160, and 200-plus meters. The entire diving community or as they say in Russian the scuba-diving elite circle was watching John Bennett. John spent 45 minutes at 120 meters on the Princess, and prepared for his new diving record. A Japanese military ship, the Yamashiro, which sunk in 1944, still remained at a depth of 200 meters in the Surigao Straits. The site had currents as strong as 4-5 knots, with bad visibility and depth. In 1999, Barry Mather and Jim Noble, former military men, marine officers, and later underwater treasure hunters on military wrecks, made a decision that they should find the legendary Yamashiro. According to rumors that were rampant at the time but were completely unsubstantiated, the Yamashiro was under the courageous command of vice admiral Nashimura who was trying to break through to the Leyte Gulf, but fell under enemy fire (in our case, ally fire). They were transporting pure gold, a strategic reserve. The vessel, torpedoed by the Americans, sunk to the south of Leyte, taking down to the abyss 1,100 lives. Despite the allies desire to help the sinking enemy, and their attempt to pick up people from the sea surface, the Japanese, true to their military samurai tradition, died like real kamikaze, and utterly refused help. They followed the sinking ship.
Barry and Jim were desperately trying to locate and dive to the sunken ship. But, alas, they never managed to conquer the task. They did find the Yamashiro, but to dive was another story. It was too deep and too dangerous. And that was when someone told them to approach John Bennett. From that day on, the ship became his obsession. In 2000, John Bennett together with the member of his team Joe McLary set out to the Surigao Strait. The equipment confirmed that a ship whose dimensions and shape resembled those of the Yamashiro was located at a depth of 210-plus meters. They were 90% certain that it was that very Yamashiro. Later, Anthony Tully, an American writer and scientist, who dedicated several years to the investigation of the battle in the vicinity of Surigao, and knew every detail of the sunken ship’s appearance, also confirmed this conclusion. The coordinates were correct. But they didn’t have a sponsor, and Jim and Barry at that time didn’t risk financing the project themselves. They thought it would be too expensive. John Bennett began his search for the sponsors. A Japanese naval officer, according to rumors a relative of one of the perished, turned out to be one of the possible sponsors. He promised a lot of money to John Bennett for diving to the boiler section and for retrieving from it a certain unusual object. The question was whether he would be able to do it. And besides who knew where that boiler was located? The Yamashiro ship was the size of a good Titanic at 213 meters. And just one tower was already impressive at 44 meters in height. Besides, who knew how the ship was positioned. It required equipment, robots, and sonar, in a word, without outside help, the project couldn’t happen from the financial point of view. It would have meant complete bankruptcy. But time passed, and they were still looking for sponsors.
Meanwhile, John Bennett undertook another record dive while looking for sponsors and dreaming of diving to the Yamashiro. In November of 2001, John Bennett conquered the undefeated depth barrier of 300 meters in Puerto Galera. Scuba divers all over the world would be discussing the details of that unprecedented, daring dive for a long time to come. Much would be written and said about it. And so, let’s not go into details, especially since they are all already described at the technical diving portals. The question is no longer how he submerged, what he was breathing, or how long it took him to decompress. What’s interesting is how he managed to prove that he had dived to that depth, since it was well known that computers, VR3 computers in this particular case, freeze at the depth of approximately 260-280 meters.
For Bennett’s record dive, a cable was strung out to which a weight of 90 kilos was attached. The cable was measured before the dive to be 305 meters. They found the necessary depth with the help of the GPS, and lowered the weight to the bottom, fastening the cable on the surface. One of the members of John Bennett’s support team, Mr. Lee from Korea, who had been nicknamed a “Magician” - managed to construct a deep-water camera with a hosing that was calculated for 350 meters. The camera was attached to the base of the cable at the depth of 305 meters, and a white plastic plaque with a 300-meter mark was attached to it too. The camera filmed. At the same time, Star TV and their crew was videotaping with Beta cam on the surface. Two underwater cameramen were filming John Bennett and his record throughout the duration of 9 hours and 40 minutes. The reason for all this activity was to demonstrate complete transparency to the community. Everything was filmed, documented, and confirmed by witnesses.
Mr. Lee’s - the Magician’s deep-water camera crated “real magic”. Those who have seen the footage know what I’m talking about. It was impressive, and most importantly left no doubts. John Bennett submerged deeper than the marked limit of 300 meters. That was the true reason why the National Geographic bought the film and broadcast it on two channels in Great Britain. There was no other reason, as some ill-wishers and other jealous people like to discuss. All the magazines in the world were writing about John Bennett. Websites were overflowing with information. The world of scuba diving exalted: without a doubt the record established by Jim Bowden was surpassed by Bennett, and not just by two meters, but for real. Jim congratulated the new champion, and there it was the long-awaited happiness.
One marvelous day, John Bennett woke up world-famous. Invitations to different dive forums with public appearances, and requests for interviews were pouring in as if in cornucopia. John Bennett achieved what he had been dreaming of and worked so hard to accomplish. Weight lifting, jogging, exercise equipment, weight lifting, jogging again, push-ups, and stress, stress, and stress. What could he do? Fame demanded sacrifices.
“305 meters and still alive!” - ¨ wrote his friends as a joke on a T-shirt that they gave John Bennett during the celebration of his new world record in Puerto Galera. His wife, Gabby, seriously worried about her husband’s new record, demanded that he signed a promissory note in front of witnesses that he would never again dive this deep. Bashful John timidly smiled and signed the promise: “No, never again this deep.” Me: “John, do you believe in God?”
John Bennett: “More no, than yes”...
Me: “A-ha! So what do you believe in? Nitrogen narcosis?”
John Bennett (laughs): “No, why, not only! I believe in my family, I have faith in their love, I believe that they were waiting for me, and it helped me resurface, and survive during my record dive.”
Later, we corresponded for a long time. I understood that he was the real thing. I asked him about Mark Ellyatt, and his claimed “record dive”. “Do you believe him, John?” - I asked Bennett, just out of curiosity
“No.” - he replied calmly.
“Because I’ve been there.”
That’s how it was, short and clear. No more questions. Those who have been there, have their own concept of how it feels down below. Then, I took a course in technical diving in Eilat (Israel, Red Sea) with Bennett’s friend and member of his team, instructor Kfir Zorev, and complained to John Bennett about my hard lot in life, the lot of an unsuccessful technical diver. In my total desperation, I was looking for sympathy. Two tanks were too much for me, and all three were completely unbearable, and four! I didn’t even want to think about four. My back ached and so did my muscles. It wasn’t fun at all, just pure suffering. To add to my grief, I somehow kept spinning to the side in my new tech gear, and from time to time ended up standing on my head, I mean literally. Since I didn’t really know how to properly distribute my weight, every time after this kind of underwater head standing I seriously thought: “Do I really need to become a technical diver at all? Perhaps, I don’t have any talent for it, and then I’m growing old”. My sad thoughts were interrupted by another somersault, sort of nasty “aqua-trick” – rolling over my head and it was then that I made a serious political decision: “That’s it. Enough. I don’t need it anymore. I’ll just go ahead and admire the underwater reefs at 30 m deep. Finished.
I complained to Bennett in my e-mail about this and that.
“Dear John! I don’t cut it as a deep diver, mate, and for some incomprehensible reason this kind of activity is not for me”…
I honestly told him that I was sick and tired of doing somersaults and standing on my head, and that I wanted to see at least one fish, and that I missed turtles, and octopuses and such, to say nothing of the sharks. I wished I could at least see some corals or sea anemones, but most importantly I wanted to feel once again that my buoyancy was not a problem, and that my diving wasn’t that bad either. And that’s how I confessed everything to the champion: that either way, I brought shame to the Russian nation, (Russian National Disgrace!) I confessed to JB that he was dead right when he said that women were no good at technical diving. And exceptions only confirmed the rule. It seemed to me that John Bennett was really sorry for me. He even sympathized with me, and noted that his students, military students, made somersaults even worse than mine, and performed such moves that sometimes he was even scared for their health and lives; in other words, he said, this process was normal. Just a little bit longer and everything would be OK. And it was true. My willpower and self-control helped me place myself back on my feet instead of my head, and then everything became much easier. And then was the day of my theory exams (advanced nitrox and decompression procedures) and then it was the last dive with Kfir, I nearly failed it all, I forgot to open the deco stage tank, and it took me a good 3 breathes before I realized the valve was closed.., shit!!!¬ Before I thought if I run out of air underwater, I would die of fear I truly nearly died, being incredibly scared that my “Guru”- Kfir, will notice what I have done, I mean what I have failed to do “in time”,I turned my back so I couldn’t be seen by my Instructor, opened the valve and breathed in such a sweet nitrox. Of course, when the dive was finished, he said that all “was well, but”… I knew. I said, OK, don’t certify me, if I’m that bad! However I received my certificate.
“John!!! I am almost a technical diver! Can you imagine? Still the same “National Disgrace”- I nearly failed my last dive with Kfir… I left the valve closed!”
“Big deal”! - Laughs John, -“I also forget sometimes to open the valve before I start to breath from deco tank”.
“You” - I couldn’t believe it.
“Of course, it happens, then you know what you have to do is to turn around and open it, until your students notice that their Instructor sucks!”!
That’s what I liked in John Bennett. To be completely honest, I do know why I offered John Bennett to finance and film his Yamashiro project. It might have been because he had never asked me for it. Generally speaking, he never nudged for money for his projects, unlike many others. Jim Bowden was the same. I'm used to people who normally “extort” the money out of me… He never asked. That’s why I wanted to give. This is me. Strange, but people always found them, and offered him financing. “They’ll offer me everything themselves, and will give me everything necessary”, - that was his maxim in life. I simply asked him if he would mind us filming his submersion to the Yamashiro, and in exchange offered to pay all the expenses for the organization of the dive. John Bennett’s reaction was very strange. ,br />
Later, I found out that one of the sponsors, who had offered to help before, never had, and consequently, John Bennett and his support team were terribly disappointed. Let’s put it this way, he was rather suspicious of my offer at the beginning. He asked many questions, and inquired if I was seriously ready for the Yamashiro. We had never filmed deep diving records. We had also missed John Bennett’s record dive, but now we would be able to witness his submersion to the Yamashiro. To his question why I was doing it, I simply answered that he was a good man. And then there was this dream and so on. And then there was John Bennett himself. And it was a big honor. It took a while longer before John Bennett finally believed his luck. It wasn’t a joke. I was completely serious when I said that I could afford to pay for the Yamashiro dive, but only under the condition that our crew would be allowed to witness the submersion and obviously film it. He was afraid to be too excited, afraid to jinx it, but his voice betrayed how indescribably happy he was.
By that time, John Bennett and his family had already moved to Australia. Although his Technical Diving Academy business in Port Douglas was good and in a way prestigious, it didn’t bring the expected profits, and in any case, the technical diver had to go to the Philippines in search of depths. Besides, he and Gabby bought a house, because the kids needed a decent school in Australia. But Port Douglas was an expensive place, and he constantly needed to earn money through private clients. Besides, he had the mortgage payments. John Bennett didn’t feel well, was simply tired, spiritually tired from his everyday life. The change of location had strongly affected his mood. Work was difficult. He had to drive his clients to the lakes. Where else in Port Douglas could he find a dive site that would be 50-70 meters deep? And it took two hours to get from the Academy to the site, and then two more hours in the cold green murky water and then two more back to the Academy, and then on, home. His friends and family were shocked that John Bennett who had been usually happy and energetic, constantly wanted to sleep and complained of being tired.
A new group of students gathered at Port Douglas for trimix training, and Bennett decided to take them to the Philippines. During his last lecture, to be exact his last exam in the dive shop in Puerto Galera, someone called John Bennett, supposedly from South Korea. They claimed that they needed help. A trailer sunk near the shores of South Korea. A fuel leak was detected that threatened with an ecological disaster along the whole shore. They were looking for a group of commercial divers to carry out this rather simple, but exhausting task. They had to locate the area with the leak and seal it. The pay was good, better than good to be precise. $2,500 a day. Five days worth of work, and then he could go back home. To be able not to think of money for a while and pay the mortgage would allow him to concentrate on something pleasant, for example...like the Yamashiro. John agreed without a second thought. He called his wife, and asked her to immediately FedEx him his dry suit. Water in Korea was only 4 degrees Celsius. Without a dry suit you’d perish. It was hard to tell whether Bennett received his suit or not. John Bennett left for the Manila Airport, and took the first flight to Seoul. The driver was surprised to see his passenger asleep on the back seat, after having thrown the bag with all his stuff that he was supposed to change into (his jeans, his shirt and sneakers) on the front seat of the car. Just before the airport, he woke up and changed, then he left for Seoul where his friends, Mr. Lee, nicknamed the Magician, and his best friend and trusted assistant in all his submersions, Ron Loos, were waiting for him.
In Seoul, they took a sauna and then went out to sea on a support boat. John called his wife. He was very upset that he didn’t get to see his wife and kids before the trip, and promised to return to Port Douglas in five days. He complained that he had left his mask in the Philippines, but nothing could be done. Ron gave him his, but he also had a problem with his flippers, he had left them at the dive center, because he was in a rush and very tired. The sea was cold, but the dive was shallow, about 45 meters or less. On the boat, the equipment that checks the content of oxygen in the mix was broken, and John was irritated and at the same time at a loss. He ended up taking his best friend’s mask, and Ron had to dive in a “Korean mask” to the ship that was already irritating to him. Lines that led to the location of the fuel leak were strung along the stern. In zero visibility, it would have been impossible without these lines. You’d be lost. Their hands were freezing without gloves, shaking from the cold and refused to cooperate. Their teeth chattered, betraying them. But a little longer, and there it was, the long-awaited leak. It was pitch dark, and they had to work by touch. Yes, it was hard, but they were paid, and besides in just four days they were going back home to Australia.
“John, what’s wrong with you?” - Ron’s hands shook his friend’s shoulder.
“Wake up! Are you all right? How are you feeling?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t dive today?” (It was day two)
“I’m all right”.
During the second dive, John Bennett was paired with Ron, as usual. Everything was proceeding according to plan, only John instead of taking the scheduled turn to the right toward the cable, turned left instead. Ron caught up with his friend, and signaled to him: “Where are you going? Are you crazy? To the right, how many times do they have to tell you?” His eyes showed that he was really mad, and wasn’t kidding. John clenched his teeth, and swam in the right direction. But Ron let John go ahead of him this time, instinctively feeling that something was wrong. The arms slipped along the cable with familiarity. John suddenly stopped, and squeezed his head between his hands. Something was definitely wrong. Ron turned his friend around to face him, and stared into his eyes, straining to understand what was happening. “OK?”- He signaled. John aggressively pushed his partner away, showing him that he was OK, and swam to the side. From this sudden push, Ron lost his mouthpiece, and icy salt water that got under his mask burnt his eyes. But all this was easy to correct. A few seconds later, the regulator was back in place, and the water was gone from under the mask. The eyes did a familiar search for his partner. John was gone. Ron searched for some signs of life, staring intently through the viscous gray liquid. His heart pounded like crazy, and sticky sweat of fear stealthily wrapped around his body like fabric… But there they were the long-awaited air bubbles. It meant that John was somewhere close, and he was breathing, and that meant he was alive. Ron swam up to his friend, and this time categorically ordered his friend to ascend right away.
“I said: UP!!! NOW!!!” - signals Ron.
Then, as if in slow motion, John shows: “OK”.
Ron resurfaced, and noticed air bubbles. It looked like John Bennett had lost the cable that led to the surface. The bubbles floated further and further from the cable that was attached to the emergency buoy, and then completely disappeared from sight. What did Ron see and feel that time? I don’t know, but I don’t think he would reveal it even at a confession. And to be honest, does it really matter? I could tell he was suffering; he still suffers, and blames himself that he didn’t help, that he didn’t see it coming, didn’t feel it, and lost, lost his friend. Everyone sympathizes with Ron and no one blames him. God forbid, anyone of us would be in a situation like that. There’s always a reason for new worries.
“Why didn’t I see that he wasn’t all right? He answered inappropriately then, and he didn’t do the right thing there. And it wasn’t the same John whom we all knew, but a different person?” Ron stares at the picture of smiling John Bennett. “Only now I understand that I didn’t notice, didn’t completely realize that something was happening to him. No, even before the submersion. Before the submersion, he was completely normal, and even joked, but, of course, he was tired. And then, you know…John was very sensitive, vulnerable and for that reason extremely secretive at times. I was his best friend, but trust me when I say that he would have never complained about anything even to me. That’s how John was.” “I returned - I looked for him, but I didn’t want to find him. I didn’t want to see him dead! Do you understand?”
I listen to Ron. I nod my head. I understand. Whatever happened, I’m trying to imagine the way it felt that time: did he see John Bennett dead or did he understand that John was dying? Or regardless of understanding that John was dying, did he still hope that everything would be all right, and that he was only imaging it? John Bennett lost the line, and there’s no need to be clairvoyant to know that, but he was so experienced that, of course, everyone assumed that John would resurface. Because he was John Bennett. But he never did. They searched for him at the bottom, and on the surface, and still couldn’t find him. An hour later it became clear that they would not find him anymore. Never.
When I understood that John was gone, I almost found the Yamashiro. I reread his letters. Yes, that was it. Schedule: 210 meters in 10 minutes. That was another “hidden” Bennett’s scheduled record. To be exact, it would have been. No doubts. If he was alive. So what killed John Bennett? Deep dives and their effect on the body? I can’t judge, but I can say one thing for sure: After the record dive, two years later, in 2003, I personally met John Bennett and talked to him, and he was doing rather well, physically and mentally. Masters claim that men die accidentally only in one case, when they make the wrong choice. It’s cause and effect thing. I don’t know and will never know what he thought or felt at that moment, and whether he was afraid. 45 meters down. South Korea. The temperature at 45 meters was about 4-5 degrees Celsius. And John Bennett, holding his head with his hands, and clenching his teeth, rebuffed the obvious: “God, it’s hurts so much! It’s so painful!”
There, underwater, throat parched, Life seems so suddenly short, And bubbles burst out of the mouth. Eyes reflect an equivalent of a dawn, And an aloof voice rings in the ears, Counting: one, two, three. (Joseph Brodsky)
I know that there are different opinions regarding deep diving records. I know that many think he shouldn’t have been diving that far down, and then he wouldn’t have died in Korea at 45 meters. For sure, his vascular system gave in, resulting in a stroke. And so on. Yes, it’s quite possible. Only I’m stubborn, and continue to believe even now that “It’s better than dying of “vodka or a flu.” And the fact that “others will come, and exchanging domestic coziness for risk and hard work, they will make way where you didn’t manage to pass”, as V. Vysotski sang in his “Summit” song, - is also obvious. Life goes on.
“Would you have dived to the Yamashiro?” - I bug another famous diver with my question.
“Me? Dive to 210 meters with this kind of currents? Do I look crazy in your opinion?”
“But John Bennett thought that he could have.”
“But that was John Bennett”.
“And what about you? Can you dive to the Yamashiro?” - I bug yet another known scuba diver.
“And how much would I get for it? If they pay me a load of greenbacks, I’ll dive.”
Oh no, no way, I think. This one would get a load of money, and then would remain down there forever, because he hadn’t had the desire to do it, and then I’ll be carrying the weight of it my whole life)
“And you?”- I ask Nuno Gomes, a real 315-meter champion, open-circuit scuba.
“I would”- answers Gomes.
As we say in Russia: A champ remains a “champ” everywhere, even if they’re in Africa”.
“Only I have to have a look at the vessel first, and figure out the weather conditions.” – continue Nuno.
Well, that’s great. Let’s go and have a look. If it’s dangerous, we won’t dive. We’ll just go and see.
:: Yamashiro during WWII