Saturday 26 of November, 2022
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The Story Behind the Viral Underwater Wheelchair Photo in Sharm El Sheikh

It's been resurfacing the past couple of days, but here are some exclusive behind-the-scenes photos.

Staff Writer

An underwater photo of a lady diver in a wheelchair in the Red Sea and an instructor helping her has been resurfacing lately on social media in Egypt - and here's the backstory.

Sue Austin is the English lady who got a team together to create the Underwater Wheelchair in 2010. She founded her organization 'Freewheeling' and filmed 'Creating the Spectacle', a two-part video of Austin's immersive dance performance and underwater exploration that was shot by visual artist Norman Lomax in 2012.

Austin had been a certified diver and had visited the Red Sea years ago before getting diagnosed with a genetic nervous system disorder that attacks her voluntary and involuntary muscles and nerves, leaving her immobile.

The wheelchair provides complete support for the body as well as motor function, giving people with disabilities the ability to navigate and even pull off some acrobatic manoeuvres similar to water ballet. This is made possible by the use of its perspex aerofoils to control turns and its battery-powered propellers.

"[Creating the Spectacle] was shot at various sites around Sharm el-Sheikh, with the Camel Dive Club providing support as we worked out the best way to get the wheelchair in and out of the water," Austin told The Guardian in 2013.

"The idea for the underwater wheelchair came to me when I trained as a disabled diver in 2005, using fin gloves. I noticed that scuba equipment extends one's range of activity in the world, just as a wheelchair does," Austin added. "However, the feeling of freedom and adventure associated with scuba equipment is far from how people generally view the wheelchair. So I wondered what would happen if I put the two together."

Austin's 24-meter dive was accompanied by Egyptian diving instructor Tamer Salman, who recently posted on social media that she'd chosen the Red Sea specifically when thinking of where to take her wheelchair for the first real-life run in open water.

Last May, Salman was featured in world-renowned diving magazine Diver, based on his reputation for professionalism among international visiting divers. Salman is the first diving instructor in Egypt to accompany a wheelchair-dive in the Ras Muhammed area in Sharm El Sheikh, and the incident is the first of its kind that Egypt has seen - but definitely not the last.