part 2 of 3

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by on August 09, 2004 at 01:06:47:

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:

A search begins -- as diver prays
By Chelsea J. Carter
Associated Press

Sunday, August 08, 2004 -

NEWPORT BEACH -- It was shortly after 10 a.m. and, aboard the tall ship Argus, crew members were watching the radar screen when a big oval blob appeared.

Cargo ship, Capt. Fred Bockmiller said.

To make its way back to Newport Beach from Santa Catalina Island, the Argus had to cross the busy shipping lanes that parallel the coast. When the sun is shining, it's almost like crossing a street. Look both ways and go, the captain joked. But during heavy fog and low clouds, it's complicated.

Bockmiller slowed the ship, which operates as a sailboat but has engines, to a crawl.

The Boy Scouts aboard for this weekend of fun and safety training could hear the foghorns of a cargo container ship bleating every few minutes. Then they heard another horn, another ship. They couldn't see anything, though, through the fog.

First mate Al Sorkin ordered two crew members to man the lifeboat and told the boys to be prepared to don their life jackets. A worried father and his Scout son put on their life vests, unasked.

Zack Mayberry knew what the procedures were. Unlike others on this trip, the 15-year-old was a member of the Sea Scouts -- a branch of the Scouts organization focusing on boating and water skills.

Growing up in Southern California, Zack had loved being on the water since he was a child. (He'd even been an extra in the ocean adventure movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.") He helped calm frayed nerves, explaining to one boy what the sounds were that they were hearing.

With two ships now on the radar screen, Bockmiller decided against immediately crossing the shipping lanes. He turned the Argus 15 degrees north.

Praying for help After so long treading water, diver Dan Carlock knew he needed to lighten his load. He unhooked his weights, which aid divers during their descent. He held them in his left hand, a few inches under the water and stared at them. Always rational, he had to think this through.

If he dropped them, he knew, it was a real sign he was in trouble.

"Do I really want to do this?" he said to himself. "Is this really happening?"

Then, out loud, he coaxed himself: OK. OK. OK.

Carlock, the engineer, opened his hand and let go.

Once, he saw an airplane through a break in the clouds and fog. It didn't see him. He heard fog horns grow louder, then fade away.

Except for the sounds of lapping waves, Carlock was alone with his thoughts. Unable to see anything around him, he ran through what might be happening.

What were the people on the dive boat, the Sundiver, doing? Searching for him? Did they report him missing?

Next came the "what ifs" -- ending with, What if I die?

Will the shock of it kill my parents? thought Carlock, who is single. What about friends? Will they know how I felt about them?

The ocean's cold distracted him from these dark thoughts. He could feel he was losing body heat, which can lead to death. To conserve strength, he rolled to face the sky and stopped lightly kicking.

He started to pray. "Hail Mary, full of grace. ..."

Search launched In the Coast Guard's operations center at Long Beach, the first call came in at 12:03 p.m. on the channel used by the public for distress calls.

"We may have a problem," a voice crackled over the radio to a dispatcher.

It was Capt. Ray Arntz of the Sundiver. He told the dispatcher he was missing a scuba diver.

Listening, Coast Guard supervisor Sandy Needle scribbled questions for the dispatcher and, at 12:05 p.m., issued an Urgent Marine Broadcast, giving all boaters the basics about the missing diver.

Petty Officer Joshua Gunn, aboard a 40-foot Coast Guard cutter, switched on sirens and blue lights. He cranked the engine to 24 knots as it left the harbor, headed for the Sundiver. But when the cutter hit the fog, it had to slow to 10 knots.

Needle dispatched a helicopter for an aerial search and to drop a locator buoy, but the fog prevented it. He called in a Los Angeles County Baywatch Rescue boat and a Long Beach lifeguard unit.

The Baywatch team reached the Sundiver first. With the stiff current, the team told Needle it lacked the equipment to go down for the missing diver.

Two divers from the Sundiver volunteered to dive 110 feet down to search. By radio, Needle asked them if they understood that the Baywatch team had determined the waters unsafe. Yes, they understood, they said before going down.

Within 15 minutes, they resurfaced. No sign of the missing diver.

Following the birds Dan Carlock's prayers were getting more desperate.

God, please rescue me, he prayed.

It was past noon, and Carlock had been in the cold water for more than three hours.

God, please send me your guardian angels. Whisper in the captain's ear and tell him where I am, he prayed. God, please don't let me die.

The heavy fog was slowly burning off, going from a thick blanket to a quilt with patches of clearing.

Carlock looked up and saw three birds flying in formation across the sky -- the first living things he had seen in hours. A short time later, the three birds flew back.

Are those my angels? he asked.

The birds must be flying back and forth between land, he thought. He began to notice bits of kelp and wood. Was this coming from land? Could he possibly make it to land?

Carlock took a leap of faith, turning his body in the direction of the birds and the kelp.

As he floated, he began to contemplate his life, his actions, his experiences.

He thought about how as a child growing up in Florida near Cape Canaveral he and his father would climb on the roof to watch the rockets. He thought about his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.

Then he began setting small goals and calming himself: Right here, in this five- or 10-second window, I'm OK. He recorded the passing time on his slate, taking care not to press the soggy pencil too hard.

God, he prayed, I want to live.

Troubled search Aboard the cutter, Gunn's crew fanned out -- bow and stern, port and starboard sides -- scanning the water for the diver.

A cargo container ship appeared on the cutter's radar screen. It was closing in on the search area, at the edge of the international shipping lanes.

The ship moved closer. Finally, as it closed to within 100 yards off the cutter's bow, Gunn temporarily halted the search and pulled back. Returning to the search as soon as he could, the cutter skipper had to abandon it again when another ship passed close by.

"There are too many people out here," Gunn radioed in frustration to the operations center.

Needle issued another alert, this time on the cargo vessel traffic channel, addressing captains of the giant ships lumbering in the fog. A search-and-rescue effort was under way for a diver in the water. Be watchful, he said.

Gunn and his crew had begun their search with a tight circle and were increasing the distance in concentric arcs. Although the Coast Guard was following the book, Needle couldn't help thinking the more time that passed, and the larger the arcs grew, the more difficult it would be to find the diver alive.

What he didn't know was that, in fact, the diver was not there to be found.

When the Sundiver radioed for help, the captain reported the man had not turned up in a roll call after divers surfaced from a shipwreck site, about seven miles off Long Beach. He didn't mention that that was the second dive of the day, the first being at an oil rig 10 miles away -- where Carlock had actually been drifting helplessly for hours.

So, the Coast Guard crew pressed its search, diligently tracing the arcs, scanning the waves, but looking in the wrong place.

Continued Tuesday

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