TERRE HAUTE —
Every diver knows the dangers inherent at sea, but getting left by the boat isn’t one of them.
J.R. Simma had a good laugh Sunday afternoon about what could have been disaster when he, his son and a friend were left stranded in the Caribbean Sea about a week ago.
“It could have been a lot worse,” the 37-year-old father said inside his Riley home, admitting the situation was far from funny at the time.
Simma and his son, Nathan, 14, took a neighbor’s son, Brent Bohnert, 16, on vacation with them June 17-25, down to the Mexican beach area of Cancun.
“We go to Mexico about once a year, but we pick a different spot each time,” Simma said, explaining he’s been diving about 10 times and both boys have some experience as well.
The trio joined a chartered boat with about 20 participants. The party headed out to sea where they, their instructor and another diver (a nurse) spent 40 minutes under water before returning to surface. But upon coming up, the group realized their dive boat was gone.
“We were about a mile and a half off the shore,” Simma said, explaining the group’s utter shock.
The instructor was baffled, he recalled.
“Our instructor has done more than 5,000 dives and said she’s never had this experience,” he said.
And as dive boats abandoning their divers isn’t the norm, the instructor had neither radio, nor phone, nor clue as to what had happened. Armed only with a 3-foot red floatie, the instructor attempted to wave that about in the air, hoping to signal distant boats to no avail.
Simma, a software engineer, remarked that the group wasn’t wearing floatation devices as the whole point of diving is to go under water. And in point of fact, their gear was weighing them down a bit. Brent’s dive jacket had a hole in it and was impeding his ability to tread water, and Nathan was getting tired.
Simma said he was growing concerned the boys might end up drowning before the instructor could figure out a plan.
After 15 minutes of treading water, the group stripped their gear and began swimming to shore amid swells of water between 5 and 10 feet. The current was quite strong and all were very tired as they tried to pinpoint a target at which to swim so as to not get lost.
Eventually they made it to a sand bar and a buoy on which they could cling, along with another party of divers, all of whom agreed they didn’t ever want to go diving again. About 10 minutes after reaching the sand bar they were rescued.
“We were in the water total about 65 minutes,” Simma said.
Once rescued, the group discovered what had happened on the boat. The nurse’s boyfriend, a doctor, had run out of air and was taken aboard. Meanwhile, another passenger suffered a heart attack. The doctor worked on the heart attack victim but the boat had to get him back to shore for treatment, Simma said. By the time the boat returned to retrieve them, they were already gone.
“They didn’t forget about us. They couldn’t find us,” he said, noting the very unhappy group was not offered a refund.
Brent said he’s been joking about the incident with friends and family now.
“At least it wasn’t raining. That would have been really bad,” he chuckled.
Nathan recalled being too angry, nauseous and tired to get scared while at sea.
“I got tired,” he said.
Simma, a graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School and Purdue University, marveled at the impact not having a communication device made, something he’ll ensure doesn’t happen again.
“We’re in the 21st century. Surely there’s something out there,” he said Sunday afternoon.
But overall, the experience hasn’t dampened the group’s enthusiasm for diving, and they said they’ll be back at it someday.
In the meantime, Nathan plans to keep his swimming adventures a little more contained.
“Yeah, in a pool,” he laughed.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
Every diver knows the dangers inherent at sea, but getting left by the boat isn’t one of them.
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