Jeff and Julie Byrne, Jeffrey Tibbles and German diver Mary Vecchio were doing a morning dive to 20m in stormy conditions at Confetti Bay off northern Mauritius. After half an hour, concerned about strong currents that were sweeping the divers away, French divemaster Christophe Nadaud aborted the dive and signalled for the group to ascend.
They surfaced amid high waves and found that they had been carried a considerable distance from their anchored dive-boat. Nadaud’s SMB could not be seen or his whistle heard. The currents were then said to have propelled the group for some distance in various directions.
Local dive operator DiveSail Travel alerted the Coastguard when the divers failed to rejoin the others back on the boat. The subsequent search operation involved 22 boats, two helicopters and an aircraft. The missing divers saw one helicopter but its pilot failed to spot them waving.
In late afternoon a pleasure-boat crew spotted the SMB about a kilometre off the northernmost point of Mauritius near Coin-de-Mire, and the divers were picked up. They declined medical assistance and returned to their resort.
According to reports, the divers were badly sunburnt and dehydrated when recovered and Julie Byrne is said now to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the experience. Shark attacks were reported to have been a constant fear for the group.
According to DiveSail Travel’s website, it has grown since 2002 to become “one of the leading and most respected scuba-diving companies in the region” with all its dive-centres PADI 5*. A director, Stephane de Senneville, told press that he blamed Nadaud for swimming away from the protection of the bay and into the strong currents that carried the group away.
However, the Mauritius Scuba Diving Association (MSDA), which regulates diving on the island, has investigated and declared DiveSail Travel, boat-skipper Jean Bernard Brasse and Nadaud negligent. It says that as a result it has suspended the company’s licence indefinitely.
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