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August 1997 Vol. 12, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Death in Bonaire

Why backups and safety checks make sense

from the August, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In July, two divers disappeared on a night dive from the shore of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antillies. The divers' parked car was found at Pink Beach, south of Kralendijk, an area that is know to have some variable north-south currents, on a night with strong winds.

I always think of Bonaire as benign diving -- walk off the beach, gentle currents, and sloping shelf. But no matter how benign the ocean might appear, it can be unforgiving of just a few minor mistakes or oversights.

The two missing male divers were in their 20s. Whatever omissions or errors they might have made is speculation, but the incident has led me to consider some of my own.

Bruce Bowker, who has been considerate enough to post most of the information about the accident even though the divers were not staying at his resort, the Carib Inn, offered this information:

"I know of one very seasoned Bonaire instructor who made a dive in that area [prior to this accident]. This person surfaced on a very dark night and was completely disoriented as to the shore. He could not see the beach or any lights anywhere. By going back down, he found the bottom and made it back to shore. Had this person been blown further offshore and not able to see the bottom, he could have been in serious trouble."

Apparently the divers had left the dome light of their car on, perhaps to help them find their way back. This probably means that they did not have a strobe beacon to leave near their entry point. I've done without before.

If it was a dark night and they were blown offshore and became confused as to what direction shore was, does that mean that they didn't have a compass? I've gone into the water without a compass a few times.

It was two or three days before a search effort began after the beach patrol noticed their unmoved car. Does this mean that they went diving without anyone's knowledge? No one knew to expect them back and check on them if they were late returning. I've gone beach diving before without making sure someone knew my entry time and expected return.

Apparently a car did drive by Pink Beach on the night of their dive and saw lights signaling what was described as an SOS. The driver of that vehicle had a cellular phone and called the authorities. According to his report, they did not respond. After a second call, they reportedly checked the area and saw nothing. It was thought that at this point the divers were hanging onto a buoy. Does this mean they used up batteries in their dive light? I've gotten into the water a few times without a backup.

A few days later, a BC washed up on Curaçao with a Bonaire Marine Park tag attached that positively identified it as belonging to one of the divers.

Why they left the buoy and how they got into trouble will remain unknown, but I do know that I will take a harder look at my own oversights.

J. Q.

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