Survivors recall 17 divers lost in ’01 Belize disaster

Posted: 10/07/2011 in all marine news

Katherine Calos –

A small vial of water from the James River went with Mary Lou Hayden to Belize this year. As she emptied it into the Caribbean Sea, she read the names of 17 friends who died there 10 years ago in the deadliest accident in the history of recreational scuba diving.

Hayden was almost one of them.

She escaped with two other Richmonders who happened to be below deck when Hurricane Iris slammed into Belize and flipped their live-aboard dive boat upside down on Oct. 8, 2001.

The rest of the group from the Richmond Dive Club was up in the main deck salon after dinner. When the Wave Dancer broke away from its dock and capsized in 12 feet of water, they were immediately immersed without life jackets. None of them escaped alive.

On Saturday, the dive club will remember the lost divers at Lake Rawlings, a former quarry that’s favorite training site in Brunswick County.

“We’re calling it a celebration of their lives. We’re not using the word memorial service,” said Dave DeBarger, 67, who also escaped with fellow club member Rick Patterson. Six of the nine crew members survived, including the captain.

The year after the accident, the club constructed a training platform in Lake Rawlings and dedicated it to the 17 lost divers. This year, they will attach a plaque with the names of those who died.

“One of the things we owe the divers we lost is to never forget them, DeBarger said, “but also to go on and live our lives in ways that would make them proud.

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