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Posted by on August 08, 2004 at 03:48:10:

In Reply to: He's like that guy from American Idol-you can't get away from him posted by Jim on August 08, 2004 at 00:45:29:

Left at sea
On a dim, foggy day, currents

By Chelsea J. Carter
Associated Press

Saturday, August 07, 2004 -

NEWPORT BEACH -- It's called "May Gray" or "June Gloom," the blanket of fog and low clouds that settles across Southern California's coastal waters during spring and summer. It typically burns off by early afternoon, making way for those blue skies that you see in postcards.

But some days, it settles in, blotting out the crowded, current-threaded sea lanes between Santa Catalina Island and the Southern California coast.

The trip that Dan Carlock was taking in these waters would feature a backdrop of Catalina rising from the ocean -- if it were sunny. But on this Sunday in April, the fog was extra heavy, the clouds extra low. Visibility was just 300 feet in spots.

When Carlock boarded the Sundiver at dawn, he saw only a wall of gray and white.

The gloom would blind recreational boaters and confuse even big commercial shippers. It would hamper rescuers whose job it is to keep safe all of those sharing these chilly Pacific waters.

Certified for advanced open-water dives, Carlock had been looking forward for weeks to the trip with the Ocean Adventures Dive Co. -- 17 recreational divers, three dive masters and a captain. It was a chance to get away from his job as a technical engineer with Boeing Satellite Systems, a position where he sometimes felt as though he was in a "Vulcan mind-meld with his computer."

For an hour after leaving the port near Long Beach, the boat rumbled toward the first dive location, the massive Eureka oil rig. Later in the day, the boat would take the divers to a shipwreck 10 miles away.

Only when the captain powered down the engine at about 8:30 a.m. did Carlock realize they were there. Suddenly, he made out the looming form of the rig, one of a cluster of man-made metal islands about seven miles off the coast of Newport Beach, southwest of Los Angeles.

At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Carlock cuts an imposing figure, his build magnified in a black wet suit.

He's an engineer whose world is driven by rationality -- logic and method dictating action. That's one reason he likes diving. He pays attention to the smallest details. On this day, besides his underwater camera and slate, he snapped a whistle to his wet suit and carried a yellow-green neon safety tube that can be inflated as both a marker and a flotation device.

He had never needed the safety equipment. But years of instruction had drilled into his head: Always carry it.

Carlock was among the first group into the water, which was cloudy with a stiff current -- the kind that required a hard swim to get underneath the rig's main platform. The water's fierce tug would cause the captain to keep a second group aboard the Sundiver, canceling their dive here.

Once under the rig, Carlock and the others were told to stay within the rig's structure during their dive. That way, they could use the rig's columns to keep from being swept along.

It was about 8:45 a.m., and Carlock headed down into the darkness.

Boy Scouts adventure Heavy fog also had settled in over White's Landing, a cove along Catalina Island, nearly erasing the tall wooden masts of the Argus, a century-old ship once used to haul goods from Greenland to Spain.

These days, the ship hauls more precious cargo. Owned by the Orange County Council Newport Sea Base, a Boy Scouts of America affiliate, it offers sailing adventures to scouting groups from around the country.

At 8:45 a.m., the crew and its passengers were finishing a breakfast of eggs. It was the second half of a two-day trip for Boy Scout Troop 681 from Rancho Bernardo, a few miles north of San Diego.

This was heady stuff for the group of 20, 17 scouts and three parents. A day earlier, the boys had climbed a mast to the crow's nest. They swung out on ropes and dropped into the ocean.

They also conducted a man-overboard drill, which required the Boy Scouts to locate an object -- a "pretend person," it was called -- in the water and point it out so the crew could rescue it.

The exercise was to show the scouts that the crew in the Argus' small rescue boat might not be able to see a person at water level. On the deck of the tall sailing ship, higher above the sea's surface, you can see better.

But the training did not go well. When First Mate Al Sorkin threw the "pretend person" in the water, half the boys failed to point.

"If that was one of you, you would drown," Sorkin scolded, "because we wouldn't find you."

At age 50, Sorkin had some of the bearing of a pirate in the movies, and he could be gruff. But the scouts loved him -- and they listened.

They did the drill again, and this time they got it right.

Today, they had a different challenge: They were in the middle of a fog bank.

Capt. Fred Bockmiller, who at 72 had helmed the Argus for more than 25 years, knew the heavy fog meant it would take longer to guide the ship back to port in Newport Beach, about 22 miles as the crow flies across the busy shipping lanes.

Most modern ships are made of metal. The Argus was made of wood. Though it had a metal beacon, the wooden hull meant it could be missed by radar on other vessels, including the enormous cargo tankers. Bockmiller decided to leave early.

He ordered the anchor hauled up, then quickly discovered the first problem of a day that would have many. The Argus' hydraulic lift was broken.

Hand over hand, the boys and the crew brought the dead weight up manually -- a tedious process "taking forever," thought scout Christian Clemesha, a slight 16-year-old with a dark mop of hair.

Alone in the ocean Fifteen minutes into the dive, at about 30 feet, pressure started to build in Dan Carlock's ears. He stopped, waiting for his ears to equalize, or "pop." If he continued down without equalizing, he risked damage to his eardrums.

Carlock waited. The other three in his group continued without him.

It only took seconds for Carlock's ears to pop. Then he followed the bubbles from his group, passing downward into near blackness.

But soon the bubbles were gone.

At 108 feet down, still not seeing the others in his dive team, Carlock halted again. Where were they? he wondered. Still no bubbles in the inky water. He considered what to do, then decided there was just one choice. Carlock began the slow ascent to the surface.

Reaching a depth of 15 feet from the top, where thin light filtered down, he stopped for a routine three-minute decompression, to allow the body to adjust to the change in pressure.

When Carlock finally broke the surface, he was alone.

The oil rig was in the wrong place. The current had pushed him out from under it, and was still pushing him. In the fog, he thought he could see the outline of the Sundiver -- but then it disappeared.

Following scuba diving safety protocols, he unclipped his whistle and blew, trying to get the attention of the boat crew.

He blew again and again and again.

But the whistle's high pitch competed with the groaning fog horn on the rig and the rumbling engines of the boat. There was no sign that anyone heard him.

Surely, he thought, when the crew took a head count, they would realize he was missing and come looking for him. After all, he had signed out on the boat's dry erasure board that tallies each dive group.

He hoped they'd hurry. There was another location they were all supposed to dive on today, that shipwreck. Treading water, he waited.

Time passed slowly. He blew the whistle some more. Nothing happened.

After an hour, at about 10 a.m., an uncomfortable thought was settling in. Carlock could no longer hear the boat's engine.

He had not heard the sounds of others surfacing; he had not heard the Sundiver throttle up and pull away from the rig. But the message of the silence was clear to Carlock.

They left me, he said to himself.

Unable to see anything, waves breaking over him, pushing him aimlessly in a Pacific Ocean turned black by fog, he was getting worried.

The warmth of his wet suit had long been lost in the 60-degree water. His arms were beginning to go numb. His legs were weak.

The engineer in him tried to take command.

Determined to stay rational, to record what was happening -- though maybe, he thought grimly, it would be just for those who'd find his remains -- he unhooked the underwater camera from his wet suit. He aimed it at his watch and snapped two pictures. Then he turned the camera toward himself at arm's length, snapping two more.

He reached for his diving slate and used the pencil to write the time: 10:28.

It had been two hours now. He fought a rising panic. Soon hypothermia would set in. How long could he last out here? How many more hours?

Then another thought came: If he survived to dusk in these cold waters, that, he knew, was when the great white sharks feed.


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