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June 2003 Vol. 18, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Ocotal Beach Resort

from the June, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Thumbs Down: Ocotal Beach ResortRick Brohammer (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) has logged well over 2,700 dives, so you wouldn't expect him to make a rookie mistake. But now he's embroiled in a hassle over the loss of his regulator and BCD at the end of a dive off Costa Rica's Ocotal Beach Resort last November.

The incident occurred on the second dive of the day at Bat Island. Things had gone differently than on the first dive. First, only one divemaster, Eric, had joined the second dive. The other, Carlitos, stayed on board Ocotal's dive boat. At the end of the dive in choppy water, Eric boarded the boat first rather than waiting for the guests to climb out as he had previously.

Then, Brohammer says, he followed established procedure by approaching the stern, keeping his weight-integrated BCD inflated, and turning his back so a crew member could pull his rig off his shoulders. Brohammer maintains that once the crew member had his BCD, he began climbing onto the dive platform when he saw his rig drifting away. The crew member never alerted anyone or tried to retrieve it, so Brohammer went after it himself. With 18 pounds of integrated weights, the BCD began slowly sinking and Brohammer, in a wet suit, was too buoyant to dive for it.

Meanwhile, Dave Beadle (Carlsbad, CA) was having similar problems. Beadle told Undercurrent he handed his camera, weight belt, and then his BCD to Carlitos, "ensuring he had a good hold of it before I released my grip." When Beadle began to remove his fins, he saw Brohammer underwater, with his BCD slowly sinking. Then Beadle saw his own scuba unit float by. He grabbed it.

Greg Galland, the Ft. Lauderdale travel agent who had put the trip together, had similar problems. "I handed my weight belt to the crew member," he told Undercurrent, "then removed my BCD assuming that the crew member had a hold of it as had been done previously." But the crew member didn't have

With four divers in the water, the crew had mishandled three exchanges. The crew had a discussion in Spanish, and Eric grabbed a spent tank and went after Brohammer's gear. He later told Brohammer that he'd reached 90 feet before running low on air, and had seen the rig on the bottom 20 feet below, but was unable to reach it. Why Eric made this attempt instead of Carlitos, who had made only one dive that day, and why Eric used a nearly empty tank when there were full tanks on board, is anybody's guess.

Brohammer and his three companions were taking a land tour the next day, but the crew members said they would retrieve the gear. Brohammer was concerned that another boat diving the area might get there first. The following morning, Eric dove to look for the gear but said he couldn't find it.

After returning home, Brohammer sent a complaint to Rick Wallace, manager of the Ocotal Beach Resort. Wallace took the position that Brohammer's BCD had not been inflated and was never handed to the crew member, so the loss was due to diver error. But Brohammer urged Wallace to contact the other divers, who agreed that Brohammer's BCD was inflated. Otherwise, it would have sunk like a stone. Rita Balogh (Ft. Lauderdale), who sat out that dive, reported that she'd heard the crew state in Spanish that they had dropped the gear. Galland and Beadle confirmed that their gear had been mishandled, as well.

Even in the face of these eyewitness reports, Wallace still denies that his crew dropped the gear and accepts no responsibility. Given that Brohammer's group includes travel professionals and seasoned divers, it seems that Wallace's decision might have implications far beyond just replacing a diver's lost gear.

And inquiring minds have to wonder: Was someone who went diving at Bat Island that afternoon disappointed because he retrieved only one set of gear?

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