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March 2004 Vol. 19, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Crocodile Hunter in La Paz Rescue

from the March, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In January, Aussie crocodile hunter Steve Irwin took the wrath of the international press for his best impersonation of Michael Jackson, when he held up his 1-month-old child near the gaping mouth of a crocodile. But Irwin is no buffoon and, in fact, was instrumental in rescuing an injured American off La Paz, Mexico, just two months earlier.

Diver Scott Jones, the owner of SCUBA Adventures in Davenport, IA, and a master instructor, took several of his customers to La Paz, on a trip arranged by Baja Adventures. He got separated from his buddy in strong surge and ended up in the water with his friend, Katie Vrooman, 77, who had also gotten separated from her buddy. Jones said, "The surge was coming in and out. I saw Katie by herself, and I knew something was wrong. Katie was never by herself." And then, he said, Vrooman disappeared.

Jones said he went to the surface and inflated his BCD. He then saw the surge throw Vrooman twice against the rocks. Fighting the surge, he got to her and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As he did so, the waves kept knocking him against the rocks. Jones said he found a cove that he thought would offer protection, "but it acted like a funnel. I'm tying to remove my equipment and give her mouth-tomouth, and I'm still being banged up against the walls."

In between breaths for Vrooman, he yelled for help, only to be muffled by the barking of the sea lions. After 90 minutes, he still could get no response from Vrooman. As night descended, Jones braced himself for a long wait on the rocks, all the while trying to hold his friend, so he would not lose her body. But the tide came and washed her out.

Irwin and a television crew from the Crocodile Hunter show were filming nearby and got word that two American divers were missing. Irwin stopped filming and offered his boat's services in the search, as well as the use of his satellite phone, which he used to call in a search plane. He spent the day looking for the couple before rising again on the morning of November 9 to resume the search. "We weren't going to give up," Irwin said. "In the morning, two kayakers told us they had spotted a bloke on the rocks."

Using a dinghy, Irwin and two other men took off for the island, with Irwin swimming the last few hundred meters to get to Jones. "We just got him in the dinghy and back to the big boat, where we gave him some water and tucker. He held on to his mate all night, and he wasn't going to let her go. He's the hero of this story, not me."

Jones says he is not sure how much longer he would have lasted if it wasn't for the Croc Hunter. "I didn't know who Steve was, but all I know is that he is a really great guy who was so comforting and caring when he found me. He never gave up on us."

Vrooman's body was recovered hours later.

From reports in the Iowa Quad City Times, the Australian Mail, The Australian Herald Sun, and interviews.

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