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October 1997 Vol. 12, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Things Go Wrong

Risky trips sometimes ends in tragedy

from the October, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Late afternoon on August 10, the Explorer II was sitting offshore in Kimbe Bay, PNG, when it lost its generator power and, along with it, the air conditioning. Diving had been good despite the unseasonable stong winds (El Niño) — according to Max Benjamin of Walindi Plantation Resort, the worst he’s seen in 31 years there. By 9:30 that night, the divers aboard decided it was too uncomfortable without air conditioning. Persuading the crew to take them to shore so they could spend the night in a hotel, the seven Japanese divers, the captain, and a local crew member departed in a dinghy for a distant shore, in rough water on a pitch-black night, with no life preservers or portable radio.

Their boat capsized. At 1:30 a.m., the Explorer sent another dinghy out to look for them. Eventually five of the Japanese divers and the captain were plucked from the surrounding seas. Unfortunately, a coordinated rescue effort was delayed, due to lack of radios and effective communications, and did not begin until later that morning.

Tom and Jessica Crabtree (Aspen Hill, Maryland) were aboard Peter Hughes’s Star Dancer when it received a call from Walindi Plantation Resort relaying a call from a local helicopter pilot, who asked them to be on the lookout for “some divers” missing from Dive Hoskins.

“Captain Don Edwards of the Star Dancer turned us around and headed back to the Dive Hoskins boat. I cannot commend him and his crew highly enough. We spent the day crisscrossing, looking for the missing divers. Even the Febrina reported to the search area from a half day’s steam away.”

A few articles of clothing and a flashlight belonging to one of the lost divers were recovered, but the divers were never found. Two Japanese divers and the Papua New Guinean boat hand were lost to the sea.

Tom and Jessica said they believed the repercussions of the tragedy were only beginning. The captain’s life could be at risk, as PNG remains an “eye for an eye” kind of place. But lessons were learned, one of which is that common sense is a very elusive beast. Divers should be the last of the lot to get into a small boat in high seas with no life jackets and no radio.

J. Q.

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