Bill Day (left) and Dr Simon Mitchell during the dive for
Haast pilot Morgan Saxton's helicopter engine. Photo by
Sir Edmund Hillary's famous phrase "we knocked the
bastard off" continues to echo for generations of adventurers,
and none more so than deep-sea diver Bill Day (51), of
Wellington, and soon to be of Wanaka.
Top on his list of "bastards" is the wreck of the General
Grant, which sank in the treacherous waters off the
Auckland Islands in 1866, reportedly with a large cache of
gold on board.
Now, Mr Day, the founder of Seaworks Ltd, has added the
missing engine from the late Morgan Saxton's Robinson 22
helicopter to his list.
A 74m retrieval attempt last weekend by his friend and
colleague, Auckland deep-water diving specialist Dr Simon
Mitchell, is believed to be the deepest dive in the lake.
A second attempt is to be made this weekend.
Retrieving the engine is something Mr Day wants to do for his
newly-adopted community and the Wallis family, which is
spearheading the retrieval attempts.
Getting the engine back would have meaning for Mr Saxton's
family and friends, as well as help Transport Accident
Investigation Commission inspectors complete their report
into the November 1 accident, Mr Day said.
"The reality is, I am a recent arrival and very junior member
of the community and it is nice to be able to give something
back," he said.
Mr Day and his wife Karen intend to move permanently to their
Mt Barker home after their youngest son finishes school this
In November, navy and police dive squads refused to put a
diver 74m below the lake surface because regulations did not
allow the use of mixed gases.
But they could not afford a commercial-scale exercise with
decompression chamber and dive bell.
Nevertheless, the navy and police were able to retrieve Mr
Saxton's body and some pieces of helicopter using a
remotely-operated vehicle and a "Kiwi number-eight wire" hook
invention by local diver Brent Pihama.
Recent changes in breathing apparatus computer technology
meant the deep dive could now be done recreationally by
skilled divers, without the costs of a commercial operation,
Mr Day said.
The Saxton engine dive required the same research and
planning as a treasure hunt, before Dr Mitchell was sent
down, Mr Day said.
In the Auckland Islands, the water was not so deep but it was
cold, remote and rough.
The challenges in Wanaka were the depth of the lake and the
altitude, putting extra pressure on Dr Mitchell.
He carried a mixture of helium and oxygen in tanks, with
three different computer systems mixing it.
If the computers "disagreed" about the gas mixture, they were
programmed to go with a "majority decision".
If that system failed, Dr Mitchell had a manual mixing system