Underwater discovery nets new friend for Fort Langley man

Sheldon Stearns discovered a treasure of sorts 100 feet below the surface of the Bali Sea that has spawned an unexpected friendship with an Australian man he’s never met.

The elevator repairman from Fort Langley was scuba diving around the Gili Islands, just off the northwest tip of Indonesia, a month and a half ago when he found a digital SLR camera.

But its what’s happened since he retrieved the rusted-out camera and its memory card in South East Asia that prompted some unexpectedly rewarding results, Stearns explained to the Langley Advance.

“I’m happy to have solved this cool mystery,” he said.

Although Stearns, 40, has been diving intermittently since 1990, while he was vacationing in Hong Kong, Bali, and Indonesia at the end of January he made a concerted effort to spend some time in the water. He managed to dive 10 times during his month-long trip – it was his trek on Jan. 28 that is having ripple effects.

“I love diving in the tropics,” he said, noting he always partners up with someone from the area scuba shops, in part because they know the terrain but also because he doesn’t feel comfortable diving alone.

On this undersea excursion off Lombok, the glare of the glass from the camera lens or display screen drew him to investigate along the ocean floor further.

“It was kind of a complete surprise for me, finding it,” he said of his discovery.

Finding the camera, he said his curiosity was immediately peaked. He wondered who it could possibly belong to and what kind of irreplaceable images might have been lost when it fell to the bottom of the sea.

He couldn’t just leave it there.

When Stearns got the camera to shore, he literally had to break it open.

“It was all rusted out,” he explained, noting he popped out the memory card and threw the camera away because it so badly degraded.

Back at his hotel room, Stearns soaked the memory card in fresh water for a few days, then left it out to dry thoroughly – never holding out a lot of hope that anything could be retrieved.

By that time, his stay in Bali was over. He threw the card in with the rest of his luggage and headed home.

“I almost forgot all about it,” he said.

A few days after arriving home, Stearns said he plucked the card from amid all of his keepsakes from the trip, plugged it into his computer, and listened as it chugged away for about 15 minutes trying to read the images.

Much to Stearns surprise, there were about a travel pictures.

And it quickly became apparent that the camera’s owner was young and ha been travelling through Australia and Indonesia, participating in a number of organized and impromptu events including bungee jumping and mountain biking.

Although Stearns has never travelled to Australia, he said he recognized the Melbourne skyline and the Sydney opera house.

Based on date stamps, the pictures had been taken between April and August 2013.

“It had been at the bottom of the ocean for five months, that’s amazing,” Stearns said, still in shock that any of the images could be retrieved.

That’s when he thought seriously about trying to get the pictures back to their rightful owner.

“I really wanted to try to find the guy… I thought it would be a really wonderful thing to do,” he said, hoping someone might do the same for him if roles were reversed.

It was pictures taken during a group tour through Kiwi Experiences that ultimately helped Stearns solve the mystery of the camera’s owner, he explained.

“Here I am, trying to figure out who owns the camera,” he recounted, suspecting it was a young man who appearing in many of the 1,000 or so pictures and a few video.

Testing his detective skills, Stearns scoured the pictures for tips about specifically where the young man had visited.

He found one picture of bungee jumping experience in New Zealand. With the help of the Internet, he found and contacted the company, sharing with them a picture of the suspected camera owner. Unfortunately, with too many customers through the business every day, none of the staff at the bungee company were able to help.

The only other pictures on the card that could possibly lead to the identity of the owner were taken during a bus tour through New Zealand with Kiwi.

“They were key in solving this,” Stearns said, explaining how he emailed the company a group shot taken by the ocean, and pointed out the man he suspected owned the camera.

“They were very eager to help, which was very encouraging for me,” he said of the excursion company.

Staff immediately recognized the tour driver. It turned out the bus driver and the passenger in question had exchanged information and stayed in touch.

The driver Facebooked his new friend, Ryan Facchin, and within days Stearns received an email.

“This is absolute madness,” Facchin said in his first email. “I lost my camera whilst kayaking in Bali, and didn’t have any of those photos backed up.”

While Facchin was in India at the time he sent the email, he explained to Stearns that he would be home in Australia before the end of March. He asked if Stearns could and would then send him the images.

“If there’s any way to get the camera or photos sent to me that would be wicked,” Facchan wrote.

Less than an hour later, he emailed back.

“I actually can’t believe this,” Facchan added. “I’ve been sobbing since I lost my camera, over losing all those photos, and now this has just happened. God bless you and your wonderful eyesight, haha! This is insane.”

Stearns is feeling good about helping, and said while he hopes to get to know the young man a little better, more importantly he’s looking forward to reuniting Facchin with all this memories of his travels.

In the meantime, Stearns said he was astonished to learn how common it is for people to lose their camera while on vacation – whether it’s lost, forgotten, dropped, or stolen.

He has since pledged to write his name and telephone number on a piece of paper, and every time he erases his memory card on his camera his first picture will be of that piece of paper.

That way, he said, if anyone finds his lost camera in future – heaven forbid he loss it – then there’s a chance that at least the pictures might one day find their way back to him.

“I did this to see if I could… It was a challenge… But I did it, and it fees good. It will be great thing for us to remember – both of us,” the Fort Langley man concluded.

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