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July 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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After Drifting for Eight Hours, 的知 Just Glad I知 Alive

from the July, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Just before the sun set Sunday, June 23, on Pensacola Pass, which separates mainland Florida from Santa Rosa Island in the Gulf of Mexico, a charter boat rescued a Pensacola scuba diver who had been lost for nearly eight hours.

"I never intended anything like this to ever happen in my life," Mike Ozburn told the Pensacola News Journal two days later. A network systems engineer for the Pensacola Police Department, Ozburn picked up scuba diving back in November as a way to enjoy his free time. That Sunday had marked Ozburn's 35th dive -- this time, among the roughest waters he has descended in yet.

Ozburn and a group of friends piled into a boat and began their dive around noon Sunday, 16 miles offshore in Pensacola Pass. While gearing up, Ozburn's elbow hit the inflator hose, letting air into his BC. Not thinking anything of it, he descended but quickly realized the excess air was keeping him from going any farther. Ozburn vented the BC and descended into the murky waters once more.

Due to his error and the lack of visibility, Ozburn couldn't find his buddy. Swimming deeper, he reached a flat level of sand, instead of the pyramid-shaped surface the divers initially descended upon. After 10 minutes of unsuccessful searching, Ozburn went up for a threeminute safety stop, finding himself about 150 yards away from the boat and out of sight.

"I inflated my safety buoy and waved my arms, blew my whistle," he said. "They didn't see it, they didn't hear it." Another five to ten minutes later, he had officially lost sight of the dive boat. Ozburn's crew began a search pattern, and after about an hour, they notified the Coast Guard. A little while later, dive charters volunteered to join the mission.

As time dragged on, helicopters and boats passed by -- none of them noticing Ozburn's calls for help. Lost in the water, Ozburn maneuvered his gear to keep him alive and afloat. Using a dive watch and safety buoy, he lined up with the edge of the clouds and kicked toward the direction of shore.

"A lot of interesting things that you do not think about when you dive regularly come into play," he said. Ozburn's neon-yellow buoy was one of them. Chosen for its high-visibility color, the buoy failed Ozburn because the way the water and sun fell on it caused it to appear white, blending in with the whitecaps and making it harder to see.

Each time Ozburn had the slightest inkling of a boat passing, he blew his whistle and signaled in that direction. "I just hoped to God they would hear me," he said.

Uncertain of his fate, what kept Ozburn kicking was never losing hope, repeating to himself, "There is going to be something else" each time a boat or helicopter passed him by.

Nearly eight hours later and after nine miles of drifting, a Niuhi Dive Charters boat came to his rescue at about 7:30 p.m. Captain Andy Ross and a few divers had set out around 6 p.m. Sunday in response to a distress call about the missing Ozburn. Observing the current's east direction, Ross calculated a speed of one to one-anda- half miles per hour, multiplied by the amount of time the diver had been missing. Slowing down around the seven-mile marker, Ross and his crew noticed a "white stick" hanging out of the water -- Ozburn's safety buoy. "It's like finding a needle in a haystack," Ross said.

Happy, tired and thirsty, Ozburn cracked open a long-awaited Gatorade while the boat took him to shore, where he reunited with his relieved and overjoyed family. Despite the risk that Sunday dive brought, Ozburn plans on continuing his favorite hobby -- though now with higher-quality gear and a flashlight always in tow.

-- Condensed from an article by Melanie Vynalek published in the Pensacola News Journal on June 25

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