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April 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Laurel Silver-Valkerís Sons Sue

from the April, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We last reported on the disappearance of Laurel Silver-Valker, 45, in Undercurrent August 2016, when we told of Captain Kyaa Heller's remorse at failing to pick her up from Ship Rock off Catalina Island, where she was diving the previous December. Silver-Valker had been aboard the Sundiver Express that day as a volunteer crew-member.

It was nearly her thousandth dive, but it was to be her last. Coast Guard documents confirmed that Laurel, as a crew member, was not on the initial passenger roster, the same list that was used to confirm that all divers were out of the water and safely back on the boat. It was only after the vessel reached the second dive site that the crew realized she was not on board.

Defense attorney David Rose, defending Sundiver in a civil law suit brought by her sons, alleged she had enjoyed little sleep the night before, she had no BCD, and she was diving solo. She apparently went deep, while carrying no surface-signaling device. Her body was never recovered.

Jorge Lopez, attorney acting on behalf of the plaintiffs, says that anyone was allowed to dive solo under Captain Heller, and although Rose says that Laurel drysuit dived without a BCD or wing, the same could be said for Heller, who evidently blamed the divemasters for the lack of an effective roll call. One newly qualified DM was around 20 years old and participated in the first dive, while the other was a 19-year-old and not certified as a DM, but acted as deckhand.

Lopez says a dive slate (plastic dry-erase board) was used that day and somehow there was a checkmark next to Laurel's name that showed that she re-boarded the boat. Nobody takes responsibility for this, leaving the inference that it was an old checkmark from a prior dive day that never got fully erased.

Captain Heller surrendered her captain's license as a result of the Coast Guard investigation. By surrendering instead of having it revoked, she is allowed to re-apply after one year.

Although the Sundiver boat company continues to operate from Long Beach, the U.S. Coastguard confirms that it is investigating Sundiver Express captain Heller for negligence. Sundiver's insurance company, Lloyds of London, has filed a declaratory relief action, asking the court to find there was no insurance coverage for the incident meaning there might not be any pay out in the event of the plaintiffs being successful.

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