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August 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Three Men and No Boat

from the August, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Three Alabama firefighters who went to Pensacola, FL, for a dive trip decided to dive together off the boat they rented, then paid the price for that mistake by getting separated from the boat and drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for 12 hours. It was supposed to be a quick, 10-minute dive on June 27, but a bad storm turned it into a half-day rescue mission.

Bryan Densel told Alabama TV station WTVM that he, Michael Bass and Jeff Thompson, all experienced divers, headed to a favorite fishing spot 13 miles off the coast. A storm was in the distance, but they expected to be back on the boat long before it arrived. "We went down the anchor rope and we got disoriented and away from [it]," says Densel. "We didn't go far, but the water clouded up so fast."

When the divers surfaced, the current had carried them 300 yards from their boat. After several hours of hard swimming, they couldn't overcome the current and get back to their vessel, so they banded together. "I felt a few bumps on my tank and I got nudged a few times, but . . . we focused on not thinking about sharks," Densel said.

The three swam and drifted for about 10 hours, through 10-foot waves and two major thunderstorms. Meanwhile, Thompson's wife called a friend, who luckily knew their dive site because Densel had mentioned it before the trip, and he called the Coast Guard. "The greatest feeling of my life was when that plane flew over and dropped flares right on us," Densel said. The Coast Guard pulled the men out at 12:20 a.m. on Sunday morning, dehydrated, hypothermic and covered in jellyfish stings, but alive.

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