Boat's propeller hits diver's tank

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Posted by on July 17, 2005 at 18:37:53:

PALM BEACH Wesley Scott Murphy remembers hearing the boat.

He remembers knowing he only had a second.

He remembers ducking and the boat's propeller hitting his oxygen tank.

"All I know is my tank exploded," he said from his hospital room Saturday night. "I can't remember much after that."

The 35-year-old man from Houston was hit by a 32-foot SeaVee named Makin' Time, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating.

Murphy, in Florida working on the Downtown at the Gardens retail construction project in Palm Beach Gardens, had no broken bones and was in good condition at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach on Saturday night. He was taken by Trauma Hawk to the hospital.

At 3:30 p.m., Murphy was scuba diving with two co-workers at a popular spot: the waters off The Breakers resort in Palm Beach. He was out about 30 to 40 minutes, about 100 to 150 yards offshore, in water 7 feet deep, when the accident occurred, he said. He was separated from his friends, who were snorkeling, officials said.

The occupants of the boat, who weren't identified Saturday, turned around and helped take Murphy to shore near the hotel, said Willie Puz, spokesman for the wildlife conservation commission. It's not clear whether they will face charges.

Palm Beach Police Capt. Keith Robinson said Murphy had bruises and back pain.

The U.S. Coast Guard, responding to initial reports of two people missing, also had dispatched a helicopter and two boats to the scene.

"I was told there was a diving point out there," Murphy said. "We went out to check it out."

The waters off the resort attract many visitors. The Breakers Reef was named among the Top Five, Favorite Drift Dive in the United States by Rodale's Scuba Diving in 1995. The reef is 40 to 60 feet below the surface.

Investigators are trying to determine whether a diver-down flag was displayed. State law requires scuba divers and snorkelers to display a red flag with a white diagonal stripe whenever in the water.

Boaters are required to make reasonable attempts to stay 300 feet away from the flags in open waters.

Divers and snorkelers are supposed to stay within 300 feet of their flags.

Puz encouraged boaters to stay alert and divers to display the diver-down flag.

"Some people think that they're close to shore and it doesn't pertain to them," Puz said. "But it is necessary."

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