RIYADH: More details are beginning to emerge in the death of Saudi freediving champion Bassam Bakheet, who passed away on Thursday while training for a competition set to take place in Jeddah this coming weekend.
Bakheet was recovered on Friday at a depth of 81 meters by specialist Trimix divers, organized by master mariner Ahmad Shaker, who helped recover the body and delivered it to the Border Guards.
Shaker, whose daughter Salma, 19, holds the Saudi female freediving record, spoke with Arab News about the tragedy and the recovery effort.
“There were different surface markers that day,” Shaker said. “There was one for a depth of 80 meters, another for 40 meters and a third for 30 meters. My daughter Salma was at the 30-meter marker when there was a sudden commotion at the 80-meter marker where Bassam had gone down.
“Someone from Bassam’s team rushed over to my daughter’s team and said that Bassam was missing. That was when my daughter called me for help.”
Shaker, the marine services director at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), called the Border Guards while rushing to the scene.
“Because of the depth, it was impossible to send scuba divers down to look for Bassam immediately,” Shaker said. “Scuba divers cannot go down beyond 40 meters using normal compressed air. For depths exceeding 40 meters, a special mix of air called Trimix is required. Trimix diving requires specialist training, so there are very few trained divers in the Kingdom who could immediately help.”
It soon became clear that this was going to be a body recovery effort requiring specialist equipment.
Trimix diving instructor Abdullah Baghdadi led the search effort.
King Abdul Aziz University (KAU), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and KAEC all immediately offered to assist and lent their equipment to the recovery effort.
Supervising the search effort was the Border Guards, working with the Saudi Watersports and Diving Federation which provided technical divers to assist in the search.
“KAUST provided underwater remote operated vessels (ROVs), KAU provided the search effort with their side-scan and multi-beam sonars, and KAEC provided search and rescue vessels with high-tech sonar,” Shaker said.
“On Thursday we scanned the sea floor using the ROVs and the sonar equipment,” Shaker said. “This helped narrow down the search area to a specific quadrant, where two Trimix divers were able to conduct a search on Saturday.
“They found Bassam at 81 meters at 5:30 p.m. He was at the edge of a ledge that went down to 250 meters. Had he slipped down, we would not have been able to recover him.”
Someone from Bassam’s team rushed over to my daughter’s team and said that Bassam was missing. That was when my daughter called me for help.”
Ahmad Shaker, master mariner
Nabil Gogashi, who is also a Trimix instructor, found the diver.
The Trimix divers brought Bakheet to the surface and loaded his body on a boat where the Border Guards were waiting.
Bakheet was buried in Jeddah on Saturday.
Salma recalled the last conversation she had with Bakheet before his tragic dive.
“He was very positive, talkative, giving tips,” Salma said. “He was a nice person who was loved and respected by all in the community.”
The Border Guards have launched an investigation into the incident.