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September 2004 Vol. 30, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers Drift 45 Miles and 14 Hours in the Red Sea

from the September, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A dozen European divers lost in the Red Sea for nearly 14 hours in August roped themselves together, told jokes and sang Christmas carols as they drifted further and further from the MV Oyster, their live-aboard boat. Suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and sunburn, they were rescued after a huge air and sea search spotted them 45 miles from where they dived.

During their dive, they saw a hammerhead and two reef sharks, but surfaced early and positioned a surface marker buoy to alert the Oyster crew, though they had already drifted. But, the crew didn’t spot the buoy in the bright sunlight and the divers continued to drift. Early on the divers saw a container ship and another live-aboard, but the vessels passed by. After six hours they rejoiced at the site of a spotter plane. Brit Bruce de Courcy, 48, said, “Then it didn’t dip its wings, nothing happened and it appeared it hadn’t seen us. From a real high, we were down to a real low.”

They talked about their backgrounds and numbered themselves one to 12. Every few minutes – especially when it got dark – they called out their numbers in sequence to make sure all were there. Though the water was warm and they were wearing wetsuits, they were losing body heat and forced themselves to keep moving. Two divers did not seem to be coping well with the cold. “I would say those two would not have made it overnight,” said the divemaster, Richard Hallam, 28. As it grew dark, each tried to suppress panic. “When you are on the surface, you can’t help wondering what’s going to happen to your legs. … you can’t help but wonder what is down there.”

They spotted mountains in the dusk, tied themselves together and began swimming toward them slowly, on their backs. Navigating by compass and two stars, they estimated they could reach the shore 30 miles away.

Then at 8.30pm they sighted the Thunderbird, another live-aboard boat, and their dive light signals were seen. On board, all celebrated the British way with a cigarette – even the nonsmokers. After an examination by a doctor, then opted to continue their dive holiday aboard the Oyster and several went diving the next day.

Hallam said, “After we were rescued, the guys on the boat said there were dolphins jumping across the prow in the direction we were actually in. We heard dolphins when we were in the water, we could hear their echo location. I think those dolphins drew attention to us. There are stories about dolphins helping humans in distress. I think those dolphins helped us.”

From the London Daily Telegraph and other reports

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