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it happened to me

IHTM Fishing Hook main

An unusual experience during a dive at North Sulawesi in Indonesia meant that seasoned diver John Langford could truly empathise with the local marine life

I have been travelling to North Sulawesi in Indonesia for a number of years. Now retired, I am able to go diving in Manado two or three times each year for a few weeks at a time. As a result, I have dived with most of the dive resorts and sampled nearly all of the liveaboards. The variety of dive sites and the unusual marine life in the area keep drawing me back. I also love the country, the food and the people.

In May this year I was diving with the guide on one of my favourite sites, Black Rock, situated at the far edge of Manado Bay. There are lots of jawfish to photograph on this site, which is one of the best for small marine critters within the Bunaken National Marine Park. 

I had been down to 30m and was making my way slowly towards the shallows, very close to the sea bed,looking for my next macro subject to photograph. At 25m I paused to photograph a goby being cleaned. Suddenly, something flashed in front of my mask. I felt a sharp pain on the underside of the little finger of my right hand.

A fishing hook, around the size of a ten pence piece, had embedded itself into my hand. Then I felt a searing pain. The hook was pulling up my whole body. I splayed out my fins to try to stop myself from being dragged up any further, but I was still being carried towards the surface. I felt the hook going deeper in to my hand. The pain was unbearable.

I passed my camera to my right hand and reached up with my left hand to catch hold of the line. But I couldn’t reach it or my knife. I had to do something, as I was being dragged to the surface. As I reached 19m, I pulled down the hand that had the hook embedded in it. The pain was indescribable. I then grabbed hold of the line and wound it around my wrist. I tried to break the line, but all the while, the fishermen were pulling even harder. 

It was my last resort; nevertheless, I knew I had no other choice. With all my strength I pulled on the line, grabbed hold of the hook with my left hand and ripped it out. I stretched my arm away from my face and shook the line off. 

I lay down on the sea bed and breathed a huge sigh of relief. My buddy finned over. It felt as though I had been on the line for an age, however, it must have only lasted about 30 seconds. 

The gash in my hand was bleeding – the blood a black colour at that depth. I managed to squeeze the gap closed and the bleeding eventually stopped. I then checked my air – I still had enough to carry on with the dive. After all, it was my last dive of the trip. I slowly finned to the shallows with no further incidents. I surfaced around 30 minutes later and saw the small fishing boat in the distance. 

Looking back, I knew I had done the right thing. My priority was to stop myself from being dragged to surface. 

My hand was sore for a couple of weeks following the dive, but it healed without any permanent damage or scarring. 

In an area where there are lots of small fishing boats, it’s important to keep an eye out; however, I have not heard of this situation happening to anyone before. 

As for the fishermen, well, I saw them in their canoe talking animatedly to each other. They are probably still to this day talking about the ‘big one that got away’. 

I guess I was lucky that I didn’t end up on a slab in Manado fish market! 


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