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March 2000 Vol. 26, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lost Cozumel Divers

from the March, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Aussies aren’t the only ones who have lost divers of late. Two Colorado women in Cozumel disappeared February 1 from the Punta Tunich dive site. Janie McKibbon, 52, and Regena Hale, 50, both novice divers, were last seen at about 40' when they gave a thumbs-up sign to their Dive Paradise instructor and began to surface. When they didn't appear, he radioed for help, and Mexican navy boats, aircraft, and 50 private vessels mounted a full-scale search but failed to turn up any sign of the women.

Though the reef at Punta Tunich is between 40 and 60 feet, it’s adjacent to a shelf that drops to over 1000. And the undertow there has earned divers’ respect; “If you get caught in that undertow,’’ Dive Paradise’s instructor said, “it’ll drag you right out.’’ The currents that day were described as “off and on and changing.” Reader Gary Nagel, who returned from Cozumel just after the accident, reported that on the date the divers disappeared, “winds from the West drove the current to extremes.” He also reported the death of another diver from air embolism the previous day.

We wrote about Cozumel currents a few years back after a spate of disappearances. Divers who’d been in their grip described a choppy sea pockmarked by 30-100' areas of placid water surrounded by whitecap rapids. At times a tornado-like funnel swirled in the middle of the calm. Since changes in tide and the mixture of warm and cool water are reportedly responsible, the problem isn’t seasonal.

It is, however, frightening, and staying calm at such a time can be as challenging as the currents themselves. If you get caught in a downwelling or upwelling, however, don’t panic. Instead of struggling against the powerful current, swim out at an angle so you don’t fight its full power. In a powerful undertow, simply inflating your BC may not precipitate an ascent. Instead, drop your weight belt, inflate your BC, and then try to ascend. Should you begin to ascend too rapidly, spread eagle to slow the rate.

Even better, of course, is examining the surface before entry and looking for the telltale signs of raging currents. If you see them, stay out of the water.

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