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Dive ban as search continues – and 2 die in Keys

Dive
Rescued after a night at sea – instructor Kristen Grodem (MMEA)

A ban on diving and snorkelling in the Mersing region of Malaysia has been imposed on the orders of the Sultan of Johor, as the search continues for three missing European scuba divers – a British man, his 14-year-old son and a French teenager.

More details have emerged about the divers’ separation from their dive-boat on Wednesday (6 April), reported on Divernet yesterday.

The three missing divers had been on Advanced Open Water training dives with Norwegian instructor Kristen Grodem near Tokong Sanggai island and, following a 45-minute dive in the morning, had embarked on a second dive at a 15m-deep site at around noon.

After 20 minutes Grodem brought the students to the surface because of strong currents and found that the boat was some 500m away. She was unable to get the skipper’s attention.

The 35-year-old instructor told the authorities that she had tried to keep the group together and swim towards an island, Pulau Lima, but that strong currents had separated them. She had drifted for some 20 hours over a distance of 40km before being spotted by a Singapore tugboat.

Expressed confidence

The missing British man, Adrian Peter Chesters, 46, is now known to be a Shell oil-well engineering manager from Sheffield, who had recently moved his family to Malaysia after spells based in the Netherlands and the USA. His son Nathen was diving with him, as was French national Alexia Molina, 18. The three have carried out about 50 dives between them.

Although the divers had surfaced at about 12.20pm the skipper of the dive-boat did not raise the alarm until 2.30. He was later arrested by police after being found to have taken methamphetamines.

As the air and sea search operation continues, Mersing police chief Cyril Edward Nuing has expressed confidence that despite the risks of dehydration and hypothermia the divers could still be found alive.

Mohammed Shakib Ali, the district officer for Mersing, yesterday ordered a suspension of scuba diving and snorkelling activities, under instructions from the Sultan of Johor.

“All resort, chalet and tourist, island-hop boats and diving centre operators are asked to stop all scuba diving and snorkelling in Mersing district waters, effective immediately,” stated Ali, adding that stern action would be taken against anyone who defied the order. It covers the seas around five main pulau or islands: Sibu, Besar, Tinggi, Aur and Pemanggil. 

The order was said to be necessary pending a police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the boat-separation at Pulau Tokong Sanggai.

Deaths
Islamorada in the Florida Keys (Pietro Valocchi)

Keys fatalities

Meanwhile two elderly scuba divers have died in the upper Florida Keys in the space of four days, both shortly after surfacing from boat-dives – and the first was a British man.

He was Michael Gaetz, 68, from England, who lost consciousness following a dive to a depth of only 6m on the morning of 3 April, according to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. He had been diving from a Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures charter boat on Crocker Reef off Plantation Key but reported feeling unwell when he got back to the boat, and then lost consciousness. 

The crew began CPR and the Coast Guard continued it while bringing him ashore, but he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. It is not known whether Gaetz was a US resident or visiting the country.

Four days later, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was reporting the death of another male diver in similar circumstances. Jeffrey Archer, 72, from Ann Arbor, Michigan had surfaced, again from a morning dive but to around 28m at a site called the Drop. He returned to the boat, operated by Islamorada Dive Centre, but fell unconscious once back on deck. 

Again the crew and then Coast Guard staff applied CPR as Archer was taken to the same hospital as Gaetz, where he was pronounced dead. Post mortem examinations are to be carried out in both cases, though foul play was not suspected in either.

CPR success

In the Canary Islands, meanwhile, a scuba diver was left in critical condition in a Tenerife hospital after being rescued from the sea. He had been shore-diving off Tabaiba in El Rosario on 5 April when he suffered a heart attack and became unconscious, according to the Emergency Services Co-ordination Centre.

The man was not breathing when other divers pulled him from the water but CPR was carried out under remote instruction from an emergency call-centre until paramedics could take over, and they succeeded in getting him breathing again.

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