Joy, sorrow as Richmond Dive Club marks 10th anniversary of tragedy

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Richmond Dive Club member Peter Rogers carries a plaque bearing the names of 17 divers who died 10 years ago in Belize. The plaque was affixed to an underwater training platform at Lake Rawlings.

Peter Rogers (right) consoles Joshua Pike during a plaque presentation at Lake Rawlings marking the anniversary of the accident in Belize that killed Pike's parents and cousin and 14 others.

Herb and Mildred Webb ran their fingertips over the name of their son, Buddy Webb, on a metal plaque commemorating 17 Richmond-area scuba divers who had died 10 years earlier when their boat capsized in a hurricane in Belize.

Then Joshua Pike approached the plaque, which the Richmond Dive Club was about to place on a platform 20 feet below the surface of Lake Rawlings on Saturday to honor the club members who died on the Wave Dancer on Oct. 8, 2001.

Pike touched the names of his parents, Charlie and Cindy, and then that of his cousin, Jimmy Topping. He sat sobbing, consoled by diving club members who have been family to the families of those who died when he was just 15 years old.

"I'm glad I conquered this," said Pike, a Midlothian native who now lives in western Henrico County. "Their passing away at such an early age was extremely hard, but it made me grow up fast."

It touched him, he said, that "everyday people are never forgotten."

The ceremony marked the 10th anniversary of the worst accident in the history of recreational scuba diving, but some 50 people gathered to remember friends and family with joy as well as sorrow.

Herb Webb of Midlothian said of his son, "One thing consoled us — he was with the people he loved and doing absolutely what he loved. If it had to happen, what better way?"

The three members of the diving club who survived the capsizing — David DeBarger, Mary Lou Hayden and Richard Patterson — were among those who attended the ceremony.

"This is not a memorial service," said DeBarger, who became president of the club after the accident. "We're celebrating their lives."

The celebration culminated in a group of divers taking the plaque into the waters of the former quarry and attaching it to a 12-foot-square aluminum platform that the club had installed in 2004 with another plaque commemorating the accident.

The new plaque includes the names of all 17 members who died after 140 mph winds during Hurricane Iris ripped the boat from its moorings and capsized it in 12 feet of water in Belize.

Some memories were hard to bear, much less share. David Mowrer was aboard another boat on the weeklong diving expedition. He spent that night and the next morning diving into the wreckage of the Wave Dancer to retrieve the bodies of seven club members and three crew members.

"At first, we were hoping to do rescue," Mowrer said in a choked voice. "Then it turned into recovery."

But the tone of the celebration was as uplifting as the sparkling autumn afternoon.

"It's not what happens to us that matters," said club member Ed Marquez, who led the group in prayer. "It's what we do with it."

That has been the abiding lesson for Hayden, who came from her home in Charlottesville for the event, and the other survivors.

"We've all continued to live life fully," she said, "as they would if we had not come back."

Richmond Times-Dispatch