Sun blamed for failure to follow drift-divers

archive – Diving NewsSun blamed for failure to follow drift-divers

More details have emerged about the incident in which two divers were left behind by their dive-boat off Apo island in the Philippines on 29 January.

They were rescued after some eight hours in the water but the boat’s operator and captain were under investigation by the Coast Guard. 

The divers were Canadian instructor Matthew LaFrance, 41, who had been based in Daiun, Negros, for two years, and 30-year-old Swayam Rawal, on holiday from the USA and learning to dive.

According to local news outlet the Inquirer, which had carried the original reports of the incident, the pair had done two morning dives from the 9m dive-boat Rosefel 2, and after lunch at 1.08pm went back in for a drift-dive at a site called Rock Point West, known for its strong currents.

After 35 minutes, LaFrance realised that they had reached the southern end of Apo, and as arranged sent up his DSMB for the boat-crew to follow.

The divers surfaced at 1.54pm, but by then the boat was far off, with the sun said to be making it difficult for the divers to be seen. Their whistling and inflation of a second SMB made no difference.

Concerned guests on the boat  were said to have entered the water to look for the missing pair. But, after they had waited an hour at the surface, LaFrance and Rawal saw the boat move away, and couldn‘t understand why it was not following the current.

It was said to be two hours before the captain informed the Coast Guard that two divers were missing, and headed back.

Because of the strong current, the divers knew that they had no chance of swimming back to Apo, so decided to swim north towards the main island of Negros Oriental. They discarded their weightbelts and tethered themselves together.

The Philippines Coast Guard’s search operation had to be called off when darkness fell.

The divers had become very cold but at around 9pm saw lights and heard the sound of engines. The 74m cargo ship Fortune Gold appeared to have missed the divers, but their cries for help were eventually heard and it turned round to pick them up. By then they were some 12 nautical miles south-west of Apo.

LaFrance and Rawal were taken to Dumaguete, arriving in the early hours of the morning. Dive-boat operator Harold Biglete and captain Joel Anggana are understood to helping the Coast Guard with its inquiries into the incident.

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