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April 2005 Vol. 20, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Thumbs Down Advanced Diving Placencia, Belize

from the April, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Thumbs Down Advanced Diving Placencia, BelizeUndercurrent subscriber R. Woolery (Dallas, TX), eight other divers, and a snorkeler got a lot more excitement than they expected when they went diving with Vance Cabrals Advanced Diving in Placencia, Belize. On December 29 Woolery and his fiance, an inexperienced diver, signed up for Advanced Divings Glovers Reef trip. No one requested their c-cards.

The boat departed at 9:30 a.m. and, while motoring to the first site, struck a piece of reef. Russ says Vance, who was running the boat, didnt even slow down, which is probably just as well as he said there was no spare prop on board. There also was no orientation to the boat, no working radio, no oxygen, and no first aid kit. There were no flares or running lights.

After the first dive, the group went to Glovers Reef for tea and bologna or peanut butter sandwiches, but Vance had not packed enough for all 10 customers. Then they waited three hours for the ten tanks to be refilled, at last departing at 3:30 p.m. After the second dive, they left for home at 5:20 p.m., with the sun sinking over the horizon. There was no GPS, the compass was not illuminated, and there was no flashlight on the boat. Luckily, Russ had 2 flashlights, and shined one on the compass so Vance could attempt a westerly heading, but apparently Vances compass navigation skills fell short. An hour later, there were still no signs of lights from South Water Caye or Placencia. And Vance said that he was about out of gas except for a 5-gallon reserve can. The boat held 80 gallons and apparently had been under-fueled.

Understandably, the group began to get anxious and asked for the life jackets. There were only two for the 12 persons aboard, so folks started filling BCDs. The divers pressed Vance to call and alert someone to their situation. Two times he called, Mayday, Mayday, this is Advanced One, with no response. This was not a surprise since earlier in the day a diver had received a shock from the antenna when he brushed up against it, a sign of malfunction.

But the real fun had yet to begin. About 7:30 p.m., the sound of breaking waves grew louder and one smacked the 30-foot boat. The next one rolled it over. Some divers found themselves between the reef and the capsized boat (with its motor still running full tilt), while others were washed onto the reef. Still others were momentarily trapped under the overturned craft.

Vance seemed flummoxed and surveyed the situation while standing on a shallow reef. He didnt ask if anyone was injured but did ask them to help right the boat, but it was impossible. So folks crawled onto the overturned boat to wait it out. The two small flashlights were the groups only means of signaling help.

Fortunately, two friends who were waiting on shore began to worry about the groups absence, and they contacted Turtle Inn, where Russ was staying. About 10 p.m., the Turtle Inn dive boat set out in search of the group and, thanks to the divers flashlights, found them at 3:00 a.m. They were ten miles offshore and fourteen miles south of their intended route.

The U.S. Embassy in Belize has requested a formal investigation. The Belize Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the operators license had been revoked pending an investigation. At press time, however, Advanced Diving was still operating out of the Barefoot Beach Bar.

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