Scot tells of desperate hunt for wife as divers go missing off Indonesia

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Posted by on June 06, 2008 at 22:33:45:

In Reply to: Five scuba divers are missing. posted by John C on June 06, 2008 at 10:15:37:

A SCOT whose wife is among a group of five scuba divers missing off remote islands in Indonesia last night told of the desperate rescue mission.
His wife Kathleen Mitchinson along with Charlotte Allin and James Manning from Britain, Elena Neralairen from Sweden and Lauren Pinel from France, were swept away by a current on Thursday in treacherous waters off the Komodo National Park in the Nusa Tenggara islands, east of Bali.

Ernest Lewandowski, told how the mercy mission was hampered by difficulties finding aircraft fuel.

Mr Lewandowski and his English wife, both dive masters, who own a dive shop on the nearby island of Flores, had been leading two separate groups of tourists on the dive. Mr Lewandowski noticed his wife's group was missing when his group surfaced an hour after entering the water.

He immediately alerted the authorities and joined a search for the divers mounted by the Indonesian police and navy.

He said: "We've got a big search operation happening, but we're having trouble getting aircraft to fly because of fuel problems.

"Time is critical. It's absolutely blistering hot out there. There were three boats out today searching. I was on a speedboat going around all the beaches to see if they had washed up.

"The search of the area was called off at 3am local time and resumed at dawn yesterday."

Rescuers had been offered the use of a helicopter from Kupang on Timor island but had not been able to use it because of a lack of fuel, he said. A commercial passenger flight headed to Labuanbajo had promised to circle for an hour over the area where the divers went missing, but this was not enough time to make an effective search.

The couple have owned the Reefseekers Dive Centre for 15 years.

They run highly-specialised diving courses including drift diving and deep diving, which enable participants to experience narcosis, a state similar to drunkenness that occurs at depths below 30 metres and which can cause death.

According to locals, the waters around Komodo present challenging conditions for divers and those taking to the water are warned of strong currents, down currents and swell.

The area has claimed the lives of several divers. One British-based diving instructor, who asked not to be named, said: "Most of the diving there is drift diving where you go down in one place, let yourself be taken along by a current and come back up somewhere else.

"The surface support the boat they're on follows them, and normally when a drift dive goes wrong it's either because of diver error they don't come back up when they're supposed to or because the surface support hasn't worked."

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