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January 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diver Dies in Sinking Boat Near Key Largo

from the January, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Perhaps a diver's worse nightmare is being trapped inside a sinking dive boat. Sadly, that happened on December 18, as a diver named Aimee Rhoads died while trapped inside the cabin of Get Wet, a boat owned by Key Largo Scuba Shack, when it sank in choppy seas. Rhoads, 36, had come from Washington State for some Florida Keys diving, and she was one of Scuba Shack's six passengers that day for a two-tank trip at Molasses Reef. The weather started out calm, but the winds picked up and the seas got choppier as the day progressed. According to Bobby Dube, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Get Wet was en route to the second dive spot on the reef around 3:15 p.m. when it quickly began taking on water. Winds were at least 15 mph., and waves were three to four feet high. Witnesses aboard the nearby dive boat Visibility estimated that Get Wet sank in "about two minutes."

Rhodes and 27-year-old Amit Rampurkarl from New York were in the cabin of the 30-foot Burpee when it started sinking, and were both unconscious when John Nathaniel, the boat's captain, dove into the cabin to retrieve them. They were put on Visibility and given CPR en route to Key Largo. Rhoads was pronounced dead after emergency workers could not revive her. Rampurkarl survived and was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition. The other six people aboard, including Nathaniel and another crew member, had no major injuries. A commercial salvage boat worked the day after the incident to bring Get Wet back to the surface and pump the water out, but it sank again.

"Right now it's a mystery why it sank, with more questions than answers," Dube told the Miami Herald. "It also is unclear why the two passengers were trapped in the cabin. "Even with just two minutes, they should have had time to get out. "Maybe they went back to retrieve personal items. We don't know."

Scuba Shack, which opened in August 2010, stated on its web site that it only takes out a maximum of six divers. Mike Schechter, an investor in the Scuba Shack, told the Miami Herald that Get Wet is authorized for more than six passengers. "I believe it's 14," he said. Scuba Shack owners Chris Jones and Alison Gracey were in the Bahamas opening up the Bimini Scuba Shack at the time of the incident.

The Coast Guard is now conducting its investigation into the incident. Legally, commercial vessels that carry six or fewer passengers for hire are not required to be inspected. (Those that carry more than six must have an annual safety inspection and a haul-out hull inspection every two years.)

Scuba Shack's web site says it's closed until further notice, and it sent e-mails to divers scheduled for upcoming trips that the shop is closed indefinitely and all trips are being cancelled "due to a very unfortunate accident."

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