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January 2002 Vol. 28, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Two Boat Sinkings and a Blue Hole Death

from the January, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The sinking of the Peter Hughes’ Wave Dancer in Belize is under investigation by Belizean officials who are expected to release conclusions in January. The October 8 disaster claimed the lives of 17 members of the Richmond Dive Club and three crew members. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Belize’s Chief Meteorologist, Carlos Fuller, says the evidence shows that the hurricane winds “increased with height.” That means the velocity of the winds was substantially higher 10 or 20 feet off the ground. Anything having a high profile would take the brunt of winds, which ranged from 100 to more than 150 mph. The four-tiered Wave Dancer “had a huge silhouette,’’ Fuller said.

Tugboat Captain Earl Young, who was aboard the tug Miss Gayle at the same dock during the storm, said it appeared the Wave Dancer was tied too tightly at the concrete dock for the high winds and approximate 10-foot storm surge. When the height of the water suddenly increased, lines and cleats holding the Wave Dancer broke. “The 120-foot-long boat’s stern came loose and tailed out,’’ Young said. “You could see the lights through the windows. That was for like 10 seconds. And then she broke away completely, moving across the channel. And suddenly there was darkness, nothing.’’ The boat rolled, eventually coming to rest on its side in 12 feet of water at the edge of the mangrove-lined shore.

At least four lawsuits have been filed against Peter Hughes Inc. and Philip Martin, the boat’s captain, on behalf of the victims. They allege, in part, that storm and evacuation warnings were ignored and passengers and crew weren’t asked to put on life jackets or assemble in a safe area during the hurricane. This, of course, will be an extraordinary test of diver liability releases, since the release Hughes requires divers to sign absolves the corporation of virtually all liability, no matter what the cause, including negligence.

Just a week earlier, a live-aboard owned by Dan Stanbro and Barbara Leah Wilson, owners of Scottsdale Arizona’s Desert Divers, was sunk by Hurricane Juliette in the Sea of Cortez. High wind pushed the 137-foot boot into a rocky area, where the boat’s propellers were damaged and rocks tore a hole in the bow. The 16 passengers and crew bailed out. Twelve were found by Mexican search teams on an isolated shrimp farm about 13 miles north of where the boat submerged. They had waded in 82-degree water for 21 hours before reaching shore. The Mexican Navy spotted four others. Though it occurred about four hours south of the Arizona-Mexican border, it escaped much press notice, because other than Stanbro, all others aboard were Mexican nationals. The only victims were two pet cats and a cockatiel.

And, in August, Roberto Delgado, a 43-year-old cardiologist from South Florida, disappeared while diving Belize’s Blue Hole. According to Delgado’s father, Roberto was last seen when the group, which was from Ramon’s Beach Resort in Ambergris Cay, did a safety check at 50 feet. At 15 feet, Roberto’s son realized he was missing and notified the divemast e r. Delgado Sr. says the divemasters acted irresponsibly when they failed to ensure that Roberto kept with the group. The father said that video footage captured by other members of the diving group reportedly shows the doctor acting in an unusual manner and that the divemaster failed to report this. Because Roberto was an experienced diver, it’s speculated that he had some sort of medical problem. His body was not recovered. During the past 20 years, four other divers have also disappeared in the 400-foot Blue Hole without a trace over the past twenty years.

-- Ben Davison

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