The U.S. Coast Guard said yesterday they were investigating RJ Diving Ventures Inc., a Miami Beach based boat operator, that Sunday left two scuba divers behind at sea about three miles off Key Biscayne in the Florida Keys.
The two divers, Paul Kline of Austin, Texas and Fernando Garcia Puerta of Spain surfaced after about a one hour dive to discover that the dive boat, the Big Com-Ocean was nowhere in sight. The two men clung to a fishing buoy for about two hours before the were lucky enough to be spotted by passengers on a private yacht which rescued them and took them safely into port. They were rescued about 6:00 p.m. as it was getting dark and they were facing the possibility of spending the night in shark infested waters. Apparently the dive boat had still not realized they had left the two divers behind.
Robert J. Arnove, the owner of the dive boat said they used a method of accounting for divers that involved standing at the stern of the boat as divers returned and checking them off a roster once they were onboard. "I do not know how the two divers got checked off without them being on the boat or who is to blame," he said. It's not clear how many divers were on board but the company's website says its 46 foot boat can accommodate about two dozen divers.
Many dive boats conduct a verbal roll call of the divers on board after a dive, but this one did not. Arnove said he eliminated verbal roll calls because the wrong person can answer. Incredibly, he said, "This happenned to me in Key Largo years ago and I was left behind."
This incident is eerily similar to a Hollywood movie made in 2004 titled Open Water. In that movie a couple surfaces from a dive only to discover that they had been left behind in shark infested waters. The movie was supposedly based on a real life occurrence.
Leaving divers behind is rare but preventable, dive boat operators said Tuesday. That may be true, but if Open Waters was based on a real life incident there have been a least three instances cited in this blog including the one involving Robert Arnove the owner of the dive boat in this case.
Although a tragedy was avoided in this case, some system need to be devised and implemented by all dive boats to insure that a future tragedy does not occur.
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