General :: 2007-05-28 11:51:40
Known around the world as an exceptional freediver, the death of Loïc Leferme has given rise to an emotional outpouring. Valerie Leferme and the group of freedivers in Nice wish to share with the global community of apneists and spear fishermen who Loïc was from the beginning, and what he wished to create by continuing his quest for the depths.
Also, they want to provide everyone with the information that will hopefully help us all to understand what might have happened on that very tragic day.
Claude Chapuis, who spent a lot of time with Loïc under water, tells us….
(This article was published (in French) in the May 2007 edition of APNEA magazine : http://www.apnea.fr)
Originating from Dunkerque, Loïc moved to Nice at about 12 years of age, on the side of Thorenc sometimes referred to as "The Swiss Provençale". He spent his years there practicing outdoor activities like rock climbing and hiking. He made many good friends there, just as he did everywhere else in the world he went. He often told us about this time in his life, when he had to chop wood with a big axe to heat his house. It was probably around this time, in such close contact with nature in the back country of Nice, that Loïc developed his view of nature: a mixture of deep respect, dreams and sincere passion.
The Beginning of the Adventure
In 1990, Claude Chapuis met Loïc, Olivier Heuleu and Marc Counil at the Faculty of Sports in Nice where Claude was an UFR STAPS instructor (Resarch and Education Unit in Sciences and Techniques of Physical Activities and Sports). From the very start, the concept was to offer training courses in freediving with a “Big Blue” philosophy, which is to say, first and foremost: freediving for the sake of freediving. It was a goal from the very beginning, to educate freedivers who were eager "to test themselves" about the risks of the new discipline. There were sleds present as of the first training course.
Roland Specker complemented this dynamic group of freedivers while in the process of creating AIDA (International Association for the development of Apnea) in 1992 in order to regulate record attempts that were taking place. At that time each athlete made up his/her own rules, often varying from one diver to the next. The “4 Musketeers” of the coast of Villefranche helped Roland and his team to develop his association. They were not alone - many freedivers in France took part in the adventure, for example J M. Pradon, F. Buyle, and more.
1996: The First Competitions
Every year since 1990, numerous teachers and students joined the adventure. Franck Tessier, instructor
Umberto Pelizzari came to lend a helping hand and the first rules of competition evolved: this was the beginning of static apnea and constant weight team competitions. The rules were very strict, regulating the safety and the validity of the performances. So, the first AIDA world championship was organized in October 1996 in the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Following that, on November 10, 1996 Loïc decided to launch his sled diving adventure by attempting the first AIDA France record with a 75 meter dive in variable weight (descending on the sled and ascending with fins). Concerned about his safety and respecting the philosophy of the group, Loïc had however successfully achieved an 80 meter dive a few days ahead. But he listened to his friends and announced 5 meters less for his record day.
10 Years of Freediving with Loïc
Teaching, taking part in competitions, and adding to his records is what Loïc did for 10 years. - a French national record in No Limits with 118m in 1998, the second AIDA world championships with Umberto in Sardinia in 1998, Egypt “Red Sea Dive-Off” in 1999 with J. Delmarre as coach of the French team, and then 137 m in No Limits that same year to beat Pipins world record. In 2000 he carried both the women’s and men’s French teams to victory in the AIDA World Cup at home in Nice, and then achieved a 152 meter No Limits world record. In 2001, he extended his world record deeper still, to 154m, the same year that the third world AIDA championships in Ibiza, Spain, was and finally his deepest world record of 171m in 2004. Despite all these performances, he remained the held. Then another world record of 162m in 2002, same person he was from the beginning, with astonishing simplicity. He taught beginners on training courses in Nice thanks to an association which he himself had created, CIPA (International Center of Apnea Diving). Eric Hoarau, François Gautier and Cédric Palerme became CIPA instructors. He held seminars for companies, made films with Pierre Frolla and finally launched out with Guillaume Néry on a trip: “Afghan Blue” to dive in the lakes of Afghanistan. The project later increased to 3 people, when Loïc’s wife Valerie joined them.
Within those 10 years, he had the opportunity to meet all the champions and endear them to his nature. Audrey Mestre, Pipin Ferreras, Umberto Pelizzari, Carlos Coste, Tanya Streeter, Natalia Molchanova, Martin Stepanek, Herbert Nitch and so many others. Because of his drive and discipline, he was also acknowledged by executives of the FFESSM (French Federation of Undewater Studies and Sports) as a serious and credible freediver. It is probably thanks to him that today the FFESSM and AIDA finally are co-operating together. He knew how to establish the link that was missing between the freedivers of France. He will remain a role model for sympathy and discretion between them.
More a philosophy Than a Quest for Records
Loïc pursued records above all. Or perhaps not - that’s why he chose to take a two year break from the diving in recent years. He took time to gain perspective, and to realize why he wanted to pursue No Limits. We often discussed this in Nice. He was fascinated by the feelings he experienced in this discipline, which requires mental strength and physical flexibility. He said his challenge was "to melt with water as if it was a partner". This is where we see the philosophy of those who approached the great depths like Umberto, who once said that it was necessary to be "like water in water".
The Final Sporting Challenge for Loïc
When Enzo Maïorca decided to descend "head up" on his sled for easier equalization, everyone else followed and did the same. From then on, nobody performed No Limit records descending head down. When he began his training again in October 2006, Loïc was returning to No Limits after a 2 year break following his 171 meter world record dive in 2004. Like any patient sportsman, he knew that the comeback was going to be hard. Indeed, his physiological adaptations, technique for equalizing at great depth and mental focus were not in peak condition any more. The choice had thus been made to progress slowly over 6 months (see table), from October 06 to April 07, using the sled from his training courses that positioned him head down. For those who think that the champions do not have any problems in progressing deeper and deeper, we will say that like us all, there were stages that were difficult to cross, each demanding specific details of effort. It was initially necessary to become a freediver again, i.e. to become one with the water once more, and to re-discover the mental strength for deep dives. This work continued until December. Then the traditional problem of equalization re-appeared. Everybody knows this is THE principal problem at great depths, more than the time of the breath hold required.
For some time, suggestions for how to solve this problem had been made, like filling one’s sinuses with water. Loïc found this technique vulnerable, subject to criticism, and he was not alone in this belief. He knew that man could descend very deep without this method. He knew, because he had felt it with his 171 meter dive two years before. The decision had thus been made to continue to explore the limits of descending on the sled head down. And the incredible occurred: with continued improvement on his technique for equalization necessary at that depth and under that pressure, Loïc had reached with incredible ease 165 meters head down 3 days before his fatal descent.
We knew, therefore, that there would be no problem reaching 185m head down without filling his sinuses with water. It was Loïc’s quest, that to show that with patience and work, one can progress into the deep without having to flood one’s air cavities and sinuses. We often compared the strategy of flooding the sinuses to the skier who wants to wax his skis to go fast but cannot ski well. According to Claude, Loïc continued to show that he really had an extraordinary capacity to compensate the pressures of great depth.
The Need to Inform
At the time Audrey Mestre s accident, there were many theories on the reasons for her death and the lack of information coming from her dive team had created an atmosphere for rumors to grow. Since his death, Loïc s team commit to be transparent with their methodology to help the world of diving, the executives, AIDA, the FFESSM and friends. And further, to try to include/understand the reasons for this accident, so that the lessons learned can make it possible to continue the development of monitoring and safety systems, even in the knowledge that the debate on the discipline of No Limits itself will probably remain open. With regard to this latter point, who can attempt to prevent man from always wanting to push the limits to see beyond those that exist?
NOTE: Not, alas, being present at the time of this fatal training dive, I precise that the information written below came from 2 persons who were present on the boat. Understand that with the stress in the boat the day of the accident, some precise details are difficult to obtain. However, having been present for 28 out of the 39 training dives prior to the day of the accident, I can accurately give general information about the different systems used.
6 months of slow progression, 38 dives, the last to 165m with 1' 49 for the descent, 5 seconds to turn at the bottom, at the surface at 3' 30 with great ease. Dive39 was scheduled for 171m. Anchor on the bottom at approximately 190/200m, light wind from the North East (favorable regarding where the rope would be in the water), slightly choppy sea, good weather, and no visible current. It should be noted that the wind of North East in the bay of Villefranche tends to position the boat such that the rope only goes into increasing depths in the event that the anchor starts to drift.
The Equipment Used
A sled weighing 3 kg with an additional 12 kg of ballast, therefore a total weight of 15kg; a 12mm rope with a total length of 190m with a ballast of 22 kg positioned at 171meters. The counterballast of 99kg hung at the back of the boat in approximately 7/8m of depth (it is attached on the same rope as the sled dive rope). Distance between the 2 ropes under water: approximately 9 meters. The counterballast is held on the surface by a simple spinlock rope blocker. The timekeeper in the boat keeps his hand on the dive rope from the beginning of the dive. The sled used is a “head down” sled, very reliable and used for years. With a very simple construction, it is made up of a tube of 1.5m, a brake, a liftbag of 50 liters connected to the sled by a screw-lock carabineer, a tank of 15 liters inflated to 200 bars cold. The bottle comprises two independent air valves, each one with an independent air tube, attached to, and into, the parachute. All that has been cited has two controls (for back-up redundancy) at each valve. Tests of these are carried out in 5m of water before the descent to check the correct operations of the sled. The sled and the counterweight ballasts are custom made lead weights, profiled to limit hydrodynamic friction and the effects of water on flat surfaces (i.e. deviance of the ropes at the time of the activation of the counter-ballast). This counterballast system had been tested many times over a long period and had thus been deemed to be reliable. The ascending speed of the entire device (dive rope, ballast at the end of the dive rope, sled and diver) is 1.8 to 1.9 m/s depending on the sea conditions. The ascending speed of the sled under the power of the liftbag, with Loïc holding on, was approximately 2 m/s on average.
bottom of the rope after 1 minute and 55 seconds. (Because the arrival of the sled at the bottom wasn t felt by the person at the surface holding the rope, this is an estimated time based on the previous dive to 165m,). Loïc used a system of "micro escape (slow inflation)" referring to the slight opening of the bottle to inflate the liftbag during the descent, at around 120m, where the pressure begins to be difficult and therefore the descent is slowed. (This means that if, once at the bottom, the diver had a problem, since the valve was open since 120m, the liftbag would be gradually inflating and the sled would ascend
The traditional checks were made. It was confirmed that the anchor was far away from the boat and the ropes; the dive rope tested to verify that it did not touch the bottom, as visual check of the rope to make sure it is straight and therefore, in theory, not resting on the bottom. Loïc left the surface and reached the in due course.)
The counterballast is systematically activated 10 seconds after Loïc’s arrival at the bottom, meaning that as Loïc ascended behind him the rope and the 22 kg ballast ascended following him. (Supposition based on the fact that he had no problem completely opening the valve of the tank, already opened for “slow inflation” initialized at around 120m) This procedure was developed in order to save time during the retrieval of the diver in the event of problem.
On Wednesday, the 11th of April 2007, the counterweight was activated between 2' 07'' and 2' 10'', i.e. approximately 10 seconds after Loïc’s arrival (estimation) to the bottom of the dive rope. The counterballast started and was functioning normally for 30 to 35 seconds. The first safety free diver, as always, began his dive at 2' 40” and went down to approximately 20 meters in 20 seconds to await Loïc for approximately 20 seconds. This schedule had always worked on the preceding 38 training dives. But on this day, the first safety free diver did not see Loïc, who was apparently delayed (the only possible explanation). For the sake of redundancy/as a back-up system, a second safety free diver descended at 2' 50''. At this point in time the descent of the counterweight started to slow down, indicating the existence of increased friction on the rope or an increased resistance/weight on the dive rope. Then everything stopped. From that point on, several maneuvers were put in action: The dive rope was pulled manually by the people in the boat for 10 seconds. (This technique had been practiced during training for the possibility of this event). This achieved nothing. The rope "feels like concrete". Immediately the dive rope was attached to a zodiac that pulled it at full throttle for 10 seconds, again with no effect. The other emergency systems were activated simultaneously: A lifting device was "clipped" onto the rope adding, in theory, an additional ascending force of 100kg, while at the same time a scuba diver went down. This last diver found Loïc unconscious and attached to the rope by his lanyard. The diver only focused exclusively on Loïc, and got him free and to the surface in a split second. It was difficult for this diver, and understandably so, to have had time to make any assessment under water to determine what he saw. Loïc surfaced approximately 6' 15” to 6' 30” after his departure, and resuscitation with CPR and oxygen treatment started immediately while the person in charge of the evacuation cut – with the knife always ready for this purpose – the anchor line, the non-moving sled rope and the rope of the counterballast. He called CROSSMED (who regulate safety in the Mediterranean) over the VHF and took 3' 30'' to get to the port of Nice where firemen were standing ready to continue life support and resuscitation immediately. This procedure had been agreed with the firemen of the port of Nice for a long time because the training site is only 3 minutes from the firemen situated at the port of Nice.
The Intervention of COMEX
Following the day of the accident, Mr. G Grogogeat, Mayor of Villefranche-on-Sea contacted Mr. H G Delauze of COMEX (offshore specialists, http://www.comex.fr/)to find out if it has the ability to carry out a search to retrieve the lost equipment that had to have been at a depth of least 200m, all of it having been lost when the ropes were cut. At the request of Valerie Leferme, Mr. Christian Estrosi, Minister for Regional Planning and President of the General Council of the Alps Maritimes, handled the case, and the COMEX arrived on the morning of Thursday April 12th at the bay of Villefranche. On board was the "Minibex"; side sonars, a ROV and the "Rémora 2000" with an operational depth of 600m. Searches were continued under the direction of H G Delauze at depths between 180m and 240m until Friday midday, without success. The probable theory to explain the inability to find the equipment and the counterweight is that, in this place, with the slope of the sea-bed being extremely steep (approximately 40 to 45°), the material had probably slipped down to depth greater than 300m. As Valerie Leferme did not wish the search to continue, the material/equipment will probably remain forever at the bottom of the sea.
It is difficult to know what could have happened. From all the discussions with the specialists, it’s agreed that the deceleration of the rope followed by a complete stop would be the "signature" of an entrapment at the bottom. COMEX, while searching in this area found at a net, two cables... and a car! Keep in mind that, according to the safety checks at the surface before the dive, the equipment was not located too close to the bottom. The other possibility could be that the sled rope could have encountered a deep current that was impossible to detect on the surface, creating angle on the rope and therefore causing the crossing of the counterballast rope and the sled rope.
Tests will be made to determine if this second theory is possible. If this is what happened, there is obvious urgency to warn freedivers of the world who use the counterballast system, that in attempting deep dives, there exists the possibility of a deep current not visible from the surface, and this could cause the equipment to malfunction in this way, (although such a warning is already achieved by the very existence of doubt).
Loïc’s team will endeavor to keep the freediving comunity informed of the results of the test, which will be carried out working with the coastguard of Nice. Everything must be done to gain knowledge. Nevertheless it is difficult for the Nice group to admit that they do not have any explanations for the moment. As for those who are knowledgable, i.e. those who may have an explanation; I am all ears.
Tomorrow is already today. We have already restarted the dive sessions, because more and more people want to freedive and train. The successors of Loïc at UFR STAPS of Nice, representing "Mr.
course. Franck came to many freediving events with Loïc. As for the young people, Yoram Zékri, Pierre Frolla and many students of the UFR STAPS, they all took part in the evolution of freediving. In the beginning of 1996 somebody wrote to the group to have a record approved for a dive in Lake Titicaca. At this time record attempts were proposed from many different angles – freediving at physiologist and cave diver, was one. It was with him that Loïc and Olivier passed their Canyoning night, at high altitude, under ice, etc. The group found each one to be more bizarre than the next! Having developed experience and knowledge around the sport they decided to propose an alternative to record attempts: Competitions.
Everyone", dive every day for the pleasure of the feelings experienced simply holding their breath under
water - for
recreation, to look at fish or to carry out performances. That is the objective of freediving and
nobody can ever change it. We are sad but also happy having been able to live such an intense adventure, so full of knowledge. What Loïc taught us, we will continue to teach, with AIDA, with the FFESSM or elsewhere, to children, adults, "racers/young guns", beginners and champions. To everyone.
We regret nothing, but we miss the laughter of our friend Loïc.
For the team of freedivers of Nice,
Why were there no scuba divers under water?
- It is not easy to find scuba divers for all the dives/dive sessions and we know that safety systems must be consistent throughout all training dives;
- It is dangerous for the divers to be under water with the 100kg counterweight descending, and the sled descending and ascending (accidents have already happened);
- The need for a specific rope for decompression adds to the existing ones and therefore the risk of crossing ropes;
- The divers are not always highly reliable underwater;
- The divers could, in an attempt to help, endanger their own life by performing ill-conceived actions in the event of a problem;
- Divers at the bottom are not always able to solve the existing problem
Text by Claude Chapuis
Translated to English by Tanya Streeter and Johan Dahlstrom.
Pics gently offered by Val Leferme
There is 6 comment(s) about this article.
Name: CaLi with IP: 184.108.40.206 in 2007-06-09 09:17:47/23430
The Chinese version's links!
Name: anonymous with IP: 220.127.116.11 in 2007-06-07 00:33:54/23429
Comment: Thanks for the openness. Good luck and best wishes to all.
Name: CaLi with IP: 18.104.22.168 in 2007-05-31 01:44:46/23428
I will give you a message when finish!
Name: freedivecentral with IP: 22.214.171.124 in 2007-05-31 01:35:47/23427
Comment: Please do ...
Name: CaLi with IP: 126.96.36.199 in 2007-05-30 23:54:55/23426
Comment: May I translate this article into Chinese and post on my forunm?
I will claim that you are original author,and show article's link on
Name: Jorg with IP: 188.8.131.52 in 2007-05-30 15:11:48/23425
Comment: Thanks for this article! Of course not all the answers are giving, but the openness of the freedivers from Nice complement them and only contribute to making freediving safer and prohibiting that any of such accidents will ever occur.
Loic will be missed... ://www.shark-freediving.com/blog/2007/04/12/in-memoriam-of-loic-leferme/