Monday, November 10, 2008

Scuba Divers Risk Going Deeper on the USS Oriskany

From the Pensacola News Journal:

Diving the Oriskany was the clincher for New York resident Bradley Gaiser.

It was part of the reason the 47-year-old master scuba diver and his new bride wanted their wedding in Pensacola last weekend.

He'd made the dive before. He'd traveled through the top of the impressive sunken wreck. He'd seen the array of marine life.

But this time he was back to touch the infamous flight deck.

"A lot of my students want to know how deep I can go," Gaiser said. "There's no reason to go down there other than to say that I did it."

At 135 feet, the sunken aircraft carrier's flight deck was already five feet outside the recreational diving limit, but instructors said it was still relatively safe for tempted divers to make the touch.

"People just had to touch it," said Eilene Beard, Scuba Shack co-owner. "And we'd say, 'OK, bounce down there and touch it and get back up here so you don't use all your nitrogen.' "

But after Hurricane Gustav pushed through the Gulf of Mexico, the sunken ship shifted about 10 feet deeper.

To the untrained diver, 10 feet may seem insignificant, but instructors fear the drop could affect the appeal and safety of the local attraction.

"That extra 10 feet made a huge difference," said Jim Phillips, owner of MBT Divers on Barrancas Avenue. "What makes the aircraft carrier different than any other ship out there is that flight deck. And everyone wants to touch that flight deck. Now that it's at 145 feet, it's luring divers a significant amount past that 130 foot limit."

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