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April 2000 Vol. 26, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Left at Sea — Again and Again

it's serious, and it's time it stopped

from the April, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Key Largo’s Aqua-Nuts dive operation left two California divers in the water overnight on February 22. When the couple surfaced at the Elbow dive site about six miles from shore near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, they discovered Aqua-Nuts’ 42' boat, two crew members, and 23 other divers had already left. Despite 25- knot winds, four-foot waves, and water temperatures in the 60s, the couple managed to swim to a 36' light tower marking the reef and spent Tuesday night and most of Wednesday atop its platform. A passing sailboat spotted the wetsuit-clad pair late Wednesday afternoon and called the marine patrol. Aqua- Nuts' Ricky Thaler said his shop has a clean safety record and has never made such a “stupid” mistake in its eight years of operation. He refused to discuss whether a head count had been taken.

The episode followed on the heels of another incident when three Floridians out spearfishing off a private boat were left adrift for hours on Super Bowl Sunday (although they’d left in the early afternoon January 30 expecting to be home in time for kickoff). The three divers entered the water after attaching themselves to a float, leaving their 34-foot boat in the hands of a friend. While she went below deck to retrieve her cigarettes, the boat drifted out of sight. She panicked, drove around in zigzags searching, and eventually disappeared from their view. Fortunately, she ran into a commercial fishing boat and relayed her tale. They called Left at Sea — Again and Again it's serious, and it's time it stopped the Coast Guard, which dispatched a plane that located the trio. They were in good health except for cramps, minor hypothermia, and numerous jellyfish stings.

Given the fact that lost divers are becoming a regular occurrence, perhaps it’s time to make mandatory a procedure such as reader Joyce Huber’s “Cards on Board” program we wrote about last month, which suggests that each diver leave his or her c-card (or some other form of ID if divers are uncomfortable leaving their ccards) in a central location on board the boat before entering the water and that the captain be forbidden to leave the area without first verifying that each card had been picked up. It may not solve the abandoned diver problem, but it’s a good place to start. Let’s insist on not being left at sea.

— John Q. Trigger

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