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Scuba diver lost in cave dies waiting for rescue

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A cave diver lost on an expedition scrawled a message in the sand to his wife and mother before dying of starvation after three weeks, police said.

Cavers found the body of Peter Verhulsel alongside his diving equipment Saturday, a police spokesman said Monday.

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They found a message to his wife and his mother scrawled in the sand beside him: 'I love you Shirl and Ma.'

Verhulsel, 29, an experienced diver and caver, got lost in the Sterkfontein Caves west of Johannesburg while diving with two friends Sept. 29.

Police divers who searched the warren of underground pools and creeks regularly in the six weeks afterward passed within 40 yards of him as he waited on the tiny underground beach where his body was found, the spokesman said.

'We were sure he had drowned,' he said. 'Now it seems he was alive but he could not hear our divers and they could not hear him as they passed within about 40 yards of where he lay.'

The spokesman said Verhulsel lost contact with a line strung through the cave to help the three explorers find their way back to the entrance. He was found on a small island at the end of a blind tunnel off the main cavern.

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'It must have been cold and lonely and utterly dark down there,' he said. 'He must have known the end was coming since he left that message for his wife and his mother.'

An autopsy indicated the diver starved to death after three weeks.

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