News has broken overnight that diving physician and anesthetist, Dr Fiona Sharp, MBBS, FANZCA died yesterday, Thursday, 17 October 2019.
A report on social media stated that the 55-year-old diver was ascending from a 91.5m (300ft) solo rebreather dive in Bonaire, and was found unresponsive on the reef at 24m (80ft) with the loop out of her mouth. (It is not known whether she had planned to dive to that depth or not). She was brought to the surface and medivaced. She did not regain consciousness. It is thought that all of her equipment was recovered. Her Inspiration rebreather head has already been downloaded for analysis. At the time of writing this piece, it is not known what happened.
The following is a first-hand account from a diving forum. The post stated that Fiona was diving with two-staged ~5 lt / 40 cubic foot Aluminum cylinders. One had 80 EANx and it was untouched, i.e. still full. The other cylinder had 20 / 20 Trimix. (20% oxygen, 20% helium, 60% nitrogen). The rebreather diluent was 21%.
The news that she passed away on a dive is a total gobsmack. — Steve Lewis
The news that Fiona had died rocketed around the diving world within hours, and it has hit many of her friends and colleagues hard.
Fiona was a real character who bubbled and fizzed with life force. It is fair to say that she was robust, forthright, outspoken and bull-headed, but that was because she was so passionate about all things diving-related. She knew her own mind, and she was not scared to discuss the current burning issue in full detail, normally over a glass of wine.
Her bulldozer attitude towards life was infectious. — Aron Arngrímsson, The Dirty Dozen
One of our family is gone
The technical diving community is a small society, therefore it is no wonder that someone with such a larger-than-life personality was globally known by so many tech divers. Fiona was certainly a Marmite Lady—you either loved her, or you didn't—but no one will be negatively dismissive over her passing. She had so much spirit about her, and a genuine unadulterated passion for diving and life.
A real live wire with such energy, zest and enthusiasm
There is genuine sadness that she has died, and a lot of fond memories being discussed, and of course some cannot be published. Dr Christine Penny very generously shared this oh-so-typical tale with me. "Fiona and I were at a joint Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine and Aviation Medicine conference at Heathrow many years ago. The last speaker was a dual-qualified doctor astronaut from NASA who was part of the team tasked with looking at the challenges of getting man to Mars. He gave an amazing talk with lots of information and stunned the audience into silence. At the end 'any questions? Are you sure no questions?' Cue loud Australian voice from the back of the room – ‘When are you Yanks going to turn metric?” The whole conference was in stitches."
I do doubt if Fiona knew just how much people liked her or thought of her. Mike Fowler echoed my own thoughts when he wrote, "I don't think you realise how many hearts you have touched and how much you are going to be missed." Fiona, 'Sharpie', 'FiFi' or 'Mad Fi' was unselfish, warm-hearted, and had the ability to make anyone feel welcome. "She was so supportive (especially of newbies like me)," said Payal Razdan.
You don’t need me to tell you Fiona lived to dive. — Dr Christine Penny, Aquamarine Medicals
Friend of FiFi
Fiona was quick to forge new friendships and the recipient really didn't stand a chance. Before you knew it you were sharing wine, laughter, and dives with Fiona. She was one of those people that once you met her, she just became your friend, and it would feel like you had been friends forever. Dr Christine Penny lived in Perth, Australia for a time and she too succumbed to Fiona's force of nature. "Fiona was extremely kind and welcoming—keeping an eye out for us Poms—making us drink beer and eat curry on a Friday. She loved her rugby, and her dogs and used to do things like taking me to see injured parrots and wildlife."
Fiona brought light, love and laughter to all she encountered. — Silent Diving
Her other family
Fiona was really fond of her family. She moved back to Perth, Australia to be close to them because she found it increasingly difficult being so far away from them. Fiona was a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law and an aunty.
What a voice!
Fiona did have a loud voice, but few of us knew she was deaf as a post. Christine Penny said, "I often felt the need to stick up for her general loud Australian-ness by pointing this justification out to others.
"Picture the scene—me, Fiona and a dive guide off Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean during one of the Diving and Hyperbaric medicine conferences. There had been a storm so the vis was rubbish but you could hear the humpback whales singing underwater really clearly. I knew she had not heard them but felt due obligation as a buddy to try and point them out to her. Have you ever tried to act out ‘Can you hear the humpback whales?’ to anyone, never mind Fiona, underwater? Cue frantic gesturing and bluebottle in a jam jar type actions. She ended up thinking I had ear problems or had generally lost the plot. Wish I had a slate that day. Nope, she didn’t hear them."
From Perth to Plymouth
A great doctor, remembered with great fondness at DDRC
In 2000 Fiona joined DDRC as a hyperbaric doctor. Jane Pimlott worked with Fiona and recalled her time in Plymouth, England:
"Fiona was a pleasure to work with, her knowledge of diving medicine was second to none and was always one for a joke when we were not busy. She always had a smile and a cheeky way of doing things. You could ask Fiona anything and she would have an answer for you whether you wanted to hear it or not. She enjoyed her time at DDRC and was sorry to leave us all in 2005. We missed her when she left but always kept in contact with her. She had a love for diving whatever the weather and always had a tale to tell when she returned from such trips."
Fiona worked at DDRC for five years and was key in the provision of intensive care in the hyperbaric chamber for critically ill diving and hyperbaric patients at DDRC. She also continued to work as an anesthetist and was a really active diver diving off the southwest coast of England.
It was whilst Fiona was working at DDRC that Dr Christine Penny had her first contact with Fiona. "The first time I ever spoke to Fiona was via radio. I was still working for the MOD and was on a warship in Lyme Bay being medical during a sunken submarine exercise with the Navy. Fiona was the receiving dive doctor at DDRC for some of our pretend submariner casualties. Funny how even now I can remember her utter excitement and enthusiasm for what was going on. Sadly I never worked directly with her in the same unit because when I started at DDRC in 2006 she had already left."
Always smartly dressed in bright colours, her outfits matched her personality, a bright light and a true force of nature. — Nicky Finn, AP Diving
It was apparent to all that Fiona loved colour. She was such a peacock—always dressed in vibrant, snazzy hues, be it a wetsuit, drysuit, sarong or a frock. It was her trademark look and this ethos also extended to her brightly coloured, immaculately painted nails. No one ever saw Fiona wearing anything dark or drab. When she was not diving she was always immaculately turned out in bespoke frocks that featured vivid, swanky marine life scenes. You could not help but warmly smile when she walked into a room because she seemed to always be smiling and literally brightened the place up.
She brought so much colour (not only from her sarongs) to our dive world. — Dori Phillips, Get Out & Dive
The subject of colour came up when I spoke to Jim Standing of Fourth Element. After swapping our favourite Fiona stories that should really only be told over a beer, we both agreed that everyone who knew her would have fond memories of her for different reasons. Jim told me, "Fiona was the first recreational diver to buy and dive an orange Argonaut. We had manufactured a bright orange drysuit for the public safety diving sector. Somehow Fiona found out about this and pestered me because she wanted one."
One of a kind. — Jessica Keller
A dive seared into the soul
We all have a clutch of very special dives that are seared into our soul for various reasons. Some for not such great reasons. (The rare epic dive where it all goes horribly wrong and you finally surface, thankful that you were properly trained by a decent instructor).
I was fortunate to have been buddied up with Fiona at Innerspace 2014. We were both diving Poseidon rebreathers and we did some pretty fantastic dives together. One in particular springs to mind. On Friday, 30 May 2014, Fiona, Lisa Edwards, Nelle and Chauncey Chapman and I rode the 'West Bay Express'. We jumped off the dock at Cobalt Coast and dived around the western side of the Cayman Peninsula down to Lighthouse Point. This certainly was an extended range dive. Not in depth—it wasn't deep, only 24m (80ft)—but in time. It was a long dive and we took three hours and 35 minutes to gentle bimble 3km (1.86mi) along the coast. I found it utterly fascinating watching my rebreather go into deco, and then go back out of deco again without really changing my profile.
Fiona Sharp was one of my favorite people. A bright spark where ever she was. — Chauncey Chapman
"One of my warmest memories of Fiona Sharp is of a dive we did at Innerspace," said Chauncey. "The long swim from Cobalt Coast to Compass point. You, Nelle, Fiona, Lisa and I did one afternoon. You were collecting trash, Fiona was swimming off the small wall in perfect trim and a wildly colourful wetsuit, Nelle was critter hunting and Lisa just wanted to go slow and stop often to see the marine life."
It was an exceptional dive, the water was gin clear—miles of viz—and oh so warm 27.7C (82F). We kicked off on a fast drift dive before turning the corner and heading south in quieter waters. I spent a good part of my dive scavenging for litter. When I glanced over to check out Fiona, I'd spot her hunting for the tiny critters that inhabit the flats. About halfway into the dive, we came across a magnificent school of glittering silver tarpon. They looked as though they were clad from head to fin in clinking chain mail. We hung and watched as they swam within inches of us. We ended the dive gathering around the recently installed 'Guardian of the Reef' statue just off Lighthouse Point.
Fiona was always like a storm blowing through in the best possible ways. — Lee Ann Hires, Dive Rite
Tributes flood in from across the globe
Many people from around the world including Australia, Bonaire, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Great Britain, Indonesia, New Zealand and the United States have generously contributed to this nod to Fiona, either in words or with some stunning photos. The following quotes sum up how we all feel about her.
"We had known Fiona for many years and seen her regularly at various dives shows around the world and also here at the factory. On every occasion that we saw her, she was always full of personality and energy, she had strong opinions on so many subjects and was always keen to share her knowledge and thoughts while at the same time always ready with a witty comment and a laugh and was great fun on a night out. Fiona was always smartly dressed in bright colours, her outfits matched her personality, a bright light and a true force of nature, she will be greatly missed." — Nicky Finn, AP Diving
"We are devastated. As a professional doctor in hyperbaric medicine, she was the one we turned to for advice in the diving industry. She is a loss to the medical fraternity and to the diving community. An absolute shining star on every level." — Perth Scuba
"Fiona was well-respected in the diving and hyperbaric medicine field, but in addition to her medical knowledge and know-how, she brought a kind and vivacious sense of humour. Our conferences and workshops will definitely lack colour and energy from now on." — Martin Sayer, Tritonia Scientific
"I was devastated to learn that our Fiona passed away during a dive in Bonaire. She was a unique, passionate and colourful personality with many friends all over the diving world and I’m going to miss meeting her at conferences. We had many discussions about GUE and in the beginning, she had a lot of preconceptions, but she ended up planning to do a Fundamentals with me in Dubai in 2020. I am so sorry that it is not going to happen." — Jesper Kjoller
The diving community has lost a bright, vivacious, unique character with a big heart and a real passion for diving
"A unique character and hyperbaric doctor with a big heart and real passion for diving. I was lucky enough to meet and dive with Fiona in Truk Lagoon in 2018, where she was on the first dirty dozen team assembled. Her bulldozer attitude towards life was infectious." — Aron Arngrímsson, The Dirty Dozen
"Fiona's bull-headed approach to fixing ignorance and searching for the truth made her a rare and refreshing member of the technical diving community." — Steve Lewis, tech author and instructor
"Fiona was always like a storm blowing through in the best possible ways. You always knew she was there and always popped up in the most unexpected places." — Lee Ann Hires, Dive Rite
"Fiona was everything I wanted to be in ten years time. Kind, fabulous, outrageous, beautifully different, spirit of the party and full of life. I will always remember how much fun we had together over a glass of wine (or two)." — Tony Griffiths
She was nuts. About everything. But especially about diving. — Dirk Peterson
"The tech diving community has lost one of its greatest advocates. Fiona Sharp was always on hand to give advice to divers both at work in the Perth Chamber and in her spare time." — The Dive Tub
"Fiona was always the first person to offer advice both medically as a hyperbaric doctor and in diving and she helped so many divers in so many ways. We will miss your laughs and jokes." — Lee Johnson
"An absolute shining star on every level, a talented friend, doctor and one of a kind dive buddy." — Rex Witkamp
"Fiona was an amazing joyous person, always teaching and bringing good times." — Alan Holt
"Fiona was such a positive person and enthusiastic about expedition-type projects. Tragic and so damn unnecessary for such a great person to die this way." — Richie Kohler
"She was a real trooper and her knowledge helped us in the dive community." — Tom Mount, IANTD
Fiona, you were special to know, teach and dive with. — Marc Crane
"I am absolutely gutted. Right to the core. Fiona Sharp was a wonderful woman, skilled physician, and true friend. I'm absolutely heartbroken both for myself and for the diving fraternity at large. She was the 'right sort'." — Dave Sutton
"Fiona was vibrant, smart (so so smart), beautiful, talented and loving. I first met her on a trip to Maui, I was a fumbling new rebreather diver and she moved a mile a minute. It was a bittersweet parting at the end of that trip. Sad because I knew it would be a while before we dove together again, but so great that I had a good, new friend to continue diving the world with and learning so much from. She is missed not only by her family but an international community of divers, scientists, doctors, friends, hobbyists and photographers." — Betsy WiHo
"Fiona was very dear to me. I saw her at her very best, caring for my friend after a near catastrophe diving in Truk. I will miss her. She was a bloody good doctor. She was dynamic and quirky and always fun." — Andrew Bowie
A true character and barking mad. But we loved you FiFi. — Pete Mesley, Lust4Rust
Eulogies from the Medics
Dr Andrew Miller, President of the Australian Medical Association (Western Australia), stated that Fiona was "bubbly, open, gregarious, hilarious, larger than life doctor, who tragically we have lost far too early."
"Fiona was a larger-than-life contributor to our organisation and scientific meetings. She leaves many friends behind and will be sadly missed." — David Smart, President of South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society
"Fiona's enthusiasm and zest for all things underwater will never be forgotten." — Dr Oliver Firth
"I worked with Fiona in and out of the hyperbaric chambers at DDRC, Plymouth, UK. She had such a passion for her work in anaesthetics and recreational diving." — Virginia Stuchbury
"She was a great physician, a great friend, and just a wonderful person. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her." — Dr Douglas Ebersole
"Fiona was a generous and kind person with her own incredibly memorable style. She had a very big, kind heart, but she could also drive you crazy. You never forget Fiona Sharp once you have met her. She will truly be missed." — Associate Professor Neal W Pollock, Université Laval
She was just a bundle of untamed energy. — Lars Bosman
A life full lived
Fiona lived life at full throttle and was always planning where she would be diving next. She shared her last evening with CCR instructor trainer Dori Phillips in Bonaire. Dori told me "we had a fabulous dinner together, laughing, and debating diving and other amazing women. She was always learning, something that instantly connected us. We had made plans. I saw her again at breakfast. She said we needed to get a photo before she left. I said, of course, we have time later today. And again, we learn... we never know. This morning is a bit empty... so many will miss her!"
Tonight there will be many a glass of Oaked Chardonnay being raised in memory of several spirited chats. So long Fiona and thanks for all the fish!