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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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April 2007 Vol. 33, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam and Jetsam

from the April, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Whale Whacks Couple Around. Protecting her calf, a 40-ton Atlantic humpback whale unleashed her fury on snorkelers who came too close and broke one man’s leg with her tail. Randy and Gwen Thornton, a couple from Utah, boarded the Turks & Caicos Aggressor in March for a whale-watching expedition at the Dominican Republic site of Silver Banks. Snorkelers are allowed within feet of the whales, which give birth in these waters every spring, but a current moved the Thorntons closer than intended, pushing them right into a mother and calf sleeping in the shallows. The pair spooked, and the mother flipped her tail twice. One flip hit Gwen in the back and sent her sailing 20 feet, the other gave Randy a broken leg. The nearest hospital was a grueling nine-hour boat ride away but Randy was later interviewed on Good Morning America vowing to dive again.

Golf Hazard. If you’re playing golf in Florida and your ball lands in a water hazard, leave it where it is. Alligators often lurk in those water hazards, and they’ve attacked divers hired to retrieve lost golf balls. Vernon Messier, 57, was standing waist-deep in a golf-course lake in Tampa, when a seven-foot alligator bit his left foot. He gouged at the gator’s eyes, pried its jaws apart and got away with minor injuries. Same thing happened last year to ball-seeking diver Stephen Martinez, 43, at a Boynton Beach course. He was retrieving balls in cloudy water when an alligator grabbed his tank and dragged him to the bottom. Martinez was able to reach his dive knife and after a struggle, escaped with a light bite to his arm. Both men are keeping their day jobs.

Watch Your Head. One of divers’ worst fears: being hit and run over by a boat. It happened to a 41-year-old Australian male diver who surfaced from a morning dive off Shelley Beach in New South Wales and hit his dive boat’s propeller. He suffered a fractured skull and had to be airlifted to Sydney for emergency surgery. Two weeks later near Miami, Florida, the propellers of a 76-foot yacht killed a diver and chewed up the flippers of another who survived unscathed. The two men in their thirties were freediving from a nearby boat, and authorities are still determining how far they were from their boat, and why, when they were struck. Lesson learned: Look straight up before you reach the surface.

Scuba Instructor vs. The Sheraton. Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled against a dive instructor appealing the case she filed against the Sheraton Maui Resort. After leading students on a night dive near Black Rock, Letizia Thompson, a freelance instructor for Pacific Dive in Lahaina, fell and hit her head after stepping in a pothole on an unlit path to the hotel’s garage where everyone’s cars were parked. She sued the Sheraton for premises liability negligence. The hotel’s defense was that Thompson would not have been on hotel grounds if she hadn’t been taking students diving for her direct financial benefit. Its lawyers cited Hawaii’s recreational use statute, which gives landowners immunity from negligence liability from any person who is neither a houseguest nor a paying guest who is injured on the land while using it for recreational purposes. The verdict: Because Thompson was only using the hotel for access to the beach but no other services, she was a recreational user and had no claim.

Snorkeling and the Bends. Snorkeling doesn’t cause decompression sickness, but it doesn’t help if you’re already suffering from it and refuse medical treatment. Soren Mikkelsen, a 57-year-old Dane, died while snorkeling off Siquijor Island in the Philippines. He had been hospitalized several days earlier after he got the bends diving in Panglao. Unwilling to postpone his vacation, he left the next day against his doctor’s advice. He thought he would not complicate matters if he only snorkeled on the water’s surface, but he was wrong.

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