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June 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers Survive 24 Hours in Open Waters of Gulf of Mexico

from the June, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After drifting helplessly in the Gulf of Mexico for more than a full day, a Florida couple had to face a grim truth: If they weren’t rescued soon, they’d end up like the couple in Open Water, the film about two divers who are left behind by their dive boat and end up as shark bait.

After being caught in a current during a dive that separated them from their own boat, the pair had drifted in increasing desperation, suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, with hallucinations playing tricks with their eyes. Finally, they saw an anchored boat they thought they could get to. “I told my husband this is our last chance. If we don’t do it, we’re going to die,” Paula Allen, 48, told Today show host Meredith Vieira.

The Allens had been diving for two years. On May 9, they set out alone in their 24-foot boat in the Gulf of Mexico. But Timothy Allen, 52, admitted they violated two basic safety rules: They didn’t bring someone to man the boat while they were underwater, and they didn’t file a dive plan or tell anyone on shore where they were going. “I’m a police officer and we preach not to become complacent,” Allen told Vieira. Yet that is exactly what he did.

When the Allens surfaced after their dive, they saw that a current had pulled them away from their boat, and they couldn’t fight their way back. They watched at least four boats pass by, too far to be able to see two divers bobbing in the swells. But one passed within 50 feet and the Allens could see a woman and a child with their backs to them.

Although they never saw a shark, the thought of an attack was always with them, and Paula clutched a spear gun through the night - - her security blanket. By morning, both were suffering from their long exposure in the water. But Timothy, who was wearing two wetsuits, was not as cold as his wife, who had worn only one. Finally, Timothy thought he saw a boat tie up to a buoy and put up a dive flag about six miles away. “I started hallucinating and seeing things that weren’t there,” he said, but when his wife confirmed there was a boat, they were determined to swim to it. The current they were riding was running about three miles an hour. He figured that if the boaters were doing two dives, that would give them two hours to cover the distance - - just enough time.

The boat belonged to Patrick Pinder, who had gone out for a dive with his sons, Patrick Jr., 18, and Garrett, 17. While the boys tended the boat and snorkeled, Patrick Sr. was underwater. The Allens had swum to within 150 yards of the Pinders’ boat when the boys spotted them, untied the boat and motored over to help them. Paula Allen was too weak to do anything. She looked at the boys and said, “Oh my God, you saved my life.”

The Allens were aboard and safe by the time Patrick Sr. surfaced. He called the Coast Guard, which came to transport the Allens to a hospital. Timothy was in decent shape, but his wife was kept for several days to recover. The Allens’ said they will continue diving - - although they would not go out again without backup, nor without telling people on shore where they were going and when they expected to return.

- - by Mike Celizic, contributor

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