It doesn't have the nicest coral formations nor the most fish. But the Blue Hole in the Gulf of Aqaba is a magnet for divers, primarily because of its reputation. Dozens of adventurers have lost their lives here over the years and, when they do, Tarek Omar pulls them back to the surface.
Tarek Omar says that he doesn't know exactly how many bodies he has recovered. "I stopped counting at some point," he says. But he can still remember the names of the first two he pulled up from the depths of the Red Sea, bringing them back onto the Egyptian shore.
"They were Conor O'Regan and Martin Gara. Irish. They were considered cautious divers. Both died here on Nov. 19, 1997. They were only 22 and 23. Sad."
Omar is sitting under an awning on the edge of the desert, drinking tea with milk and looking out over the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, which wash against the east coast of the Sinai. The nearest settlement, the resort town of Dahab, is 10 kilometers (six miles) to the south.
"I found the bodies at a depth of 102 meters (335 feet)," says Omar. "They were holding each other in an embrace. This is how it must have happened: One of them had problems and kept sinking deeper down. The other wanted to help him. And then both of them lost consciousness. What can you do? Their memorial stone is up there."
He steps out of the shade and walks along a dusty path. Sunburned tourists in life vests are snorkeling in the water. At the end of the cliff-lined bay, Omar stops walking and points to a slab of black marble set into the ground, with the words "In Loving Memory" inscribed onto it. "It's only one of many memorials," he says, and turns around.
"There?," he says, pointing to a white panel in the cliff: "Yuri, a Russian. On April 28, 2000. Terrible story. Was lying at a depth of 115 meters." Nearby is a black-and-red panel. "James, June 1, 2003. At 135 meters. And then here," he says pointing to a gray plaque, "Andrei, another Russian. Aug. 24, 2004. I didn't find the body. At 170 meters, there is a tank and a neoprene suit; it might have been his equipment."
Because It's the Most Dangerous
The dead also include Karl Marx, an Austrian: Jan. 10, 2007. Stefan Felder from Switzerland: Sept. 23, 2008. Madlen, a diving instructor from Sachsenhausen: May 9, 2009. The beach looks like a cemetery.
There are 14 memorial stones dedicated to divers who have lost their lives in the Blue Hole, an opening of about 80 meters in diameter in the roof of the barrier reef. Its walls taper down like the sides of a funnel, but there is an opening. At a depth of 52 meters, an arch opens into a 26-meter-long tunnel that leads through the reef and into the open sea. The floor of the tunnel slopes from a depth of 102 meters down to 120 meters. On the other side, the seafloor drops in increments, first to 130 meters, then to 150, 250, 300 and, finally, to 800 meters.
It is 10 a.m., and 23 SUVs are bumping along the road to the Blue Hole, where they unload guests from Sharm el-Sheikh. A woman in red bikini briefs and flip-flops takes a picture of the memorial site. It's a popular subject.
There are more attractive dive sites than the Blue Hole of Dahab, with more colorful corals, and more fish, shipwrecks, channels and caves. But the Blue Hole is considered to be most famous diving spot in the world -- because it's the most dangerous.