I was in the galley when the news came through. "They picked him up!" Bieser called down from the wheelhouse. Shortly after we heard the good news, Coast Guard choppers arrived overhead, circling the Wahoo until the inflatable boat came into view. In the meantime, we made bets on how much gear Campbell had discarded during his 2� hours adrift. As it turned out, he had dropped almost everything: his weight belt, tanks, regulators and gauges—equipment worth more than $1,500. What he had refused to give up was the heavy and cumbersome underwater video system he had carried. He realized that in the dark its powerful lights could serve as a beacon to rescuers.
When Campbell was safely back on board, he asked, looking from face to face, "Did you guys really think you would find me out there? Or did you think I was...on the wreck?"
"We knew we'd find you. We knew it was just a matter of time," we lied.
Sports divers started visiting the Andrea Doria the day after it sank, when the late Peter Gimbel and Joseph Fox photographed the ship for Life magazine. In those days, before submersible pressure gauges and buoyancy compensators, diving the wreck—or diving anywhere—was a lot riskier than it is today. Every few years, beginning in the early 1970s, a boatload of pioneer wreck divers would make the trek from Montauk; Newport, R.I.; or Block Island, R.I., sometimes returning with prize artifacts—the wheelhouse compass, large brass promenade-deck windows, portholes. Eventually, Gimbel returned with a commercial salvage ship to retrieve one of the ship's safes. As more divers visit the wreck, venturing deeper inside its lightless passageways in search of increasingly difficult-to-find artifacts and unusual sights to photograph, the potential for tragedy grows.
"People don't think about how many adjustments you have to make before you make this dive," Campbell says. "You spend 13 hours on a boat, you don't sleep right, you're not feeling yourself—then you have to get in the water and start making critical decisions. It's similar to an Olympic athlete who, before the big race, sleeps in his car and eats four Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for breakfast."
I tried to put all this out of my mind the next day as my diving partner, Ed Soellner, and I pulled ourselves down the anchor line into the pea-green ocean to the Andrea Doria. When we reached the hull, Soellner disappeared into the hole that Gimbel had cut in the ship's side in 1981 to retrieve the safe. The hole, at about 220 feet, provides access to the first-class dining area, where divers dig for china and crystal bearing the Italian Line's crest. Just a few feet away from where Soellner was digging, another diver died, in 1985, when he was caught in heavy cables. I confined my sight-seeing to the hull and the promenade deck.
After 20 minutes I had to begin the long decompression necessary to avoid the bends. There was no sign of Soellner, and no time to look for him. I started up the anchor line, my heart pounding. I decompressed for nearly an hour, hanging on to the anchor rope with both hands in a current so strong that it threatened to rip my mask away if I turned my head to the side. Hanging is tiring, cold and, once you've seen the first four dozen jellyfish float by, boring. But if your partner is missing, there is plenty of time for anxiety to build. I was sure Soellner was all right...but what if he wasn't? Finally, as I neared the surface, I made out his silhouette 30 to 40 feet beneath my fins.
As the waves tossed the Wahoo about on the long ride home, some of us wondered aloud whether visiting the Andrea Doria was worth the hassle, the discomforts, the risk. A number of the divers concluded that it was not, that this would be their last trip. That was exactly what most of us had said the year before.