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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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20 die at Big Creek as
storm swamps catamaran

The entire five man crew of the Belize-based Catamaran Wave Dancer and 20
of its passengers, all divers from Virginia, were killed by Hurricane
Iris as the storm came ashore last Monday night near Big Creek.

They were the only ones to die in Belize as the 145 mile-an hour winds
roared across a 25 -mile stretch of coastline between Monkey River and
seine Bight around 8 o'clock Monday night, October 8.

Many buildings were flattened by the howling winds and tidal surge. Others
lost their roofs or received structural damage, but remarkably, no lives
were lost on the mainland.
Ample advance warnings and adequate evacuation measures had alerted
thousands of Belizeans occupying the offshore islands and coastal
settlements to the imminent danger posed by this category lV hurricane.

Yet the captain and crew of the Wave Dancer and twenty young scuba divers,
all from the Richmond Dive Club of Richmond, chose to stay aboard the 120
foot craft moored to the leeward of Big Creek.

Dive tour operators report that hotels in Belize were all closed because of
hurricane precautions, and this obliged the skipper and crew of the Wave
Dancer to look for safe moorings.

But tying this large boat securely to the mangrove trees on the leeward
side of Big Creek was a monumental mistake. Leaving the divers and crew on
board to face the storm was another, even greater error.

Eve-witnesses say the storm surge lifted the boat in the air, like a
match box, and when it and flattened out it caused the boat to snap its
mooring cables. The otherwise stable catamaran immediately capsized in
some 12 foot of water and the bodies spilled overboard were immediately
carried away in a swirl of angry sea.

Swimming in such a pool of tropical fury is impossible, and it is believed
that all hands drowned in the first few minutes of impact.

Nineteen bodies have been recovered, and the only three who saved
themselves are the two men and one woman who chose not to stay on board the
ill- fated Wave Dancer.

These three have been identified as David De-Barger, Richard Patterson
and Mary Lou Hayden.
Glen Prillaman, President of the Richmond Dive Club, was among those stayed
aboard, and who lost their lives Monday night at Big Creek.

Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 159
There seems to be some trouble figuring out what happened to the Wave Dancer...either the mangrove tie up story or the story of another boat or barge coming lose and hitting it and sinking it.
I tend to side with Susan as from experience, from the demise of the Fantome, many decisions are based on money. However, on top of that, we have a situation where it seems that people should have been on land and not on the boat, period. So no matter what happened in the BCPort, they should have been hunkered down in a building on land.

chris considine
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 4
The various stories refer to the vessel as a catamaran. The Wave Dancer pictures on their website is the momohull boat that I remember. Can anyone clarify which boat was lost? Had they replaced the older boat?

Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 44
Go to this website

for information on accident.

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Here's the information off the Richmond Dive Club, Inc. website:

Thirty members of the Richmond Dive Club were involved in an accident in Belize last night about 11:00 p.m. Two live aboard dive boats were carrying members of the Club, the MV Wave Dancer, owned and operated by Peter Hughes Diving, and the Belize Aggressor, owned and operated by The Aggressor Fleet.

Seeking refuge from Hurricane Iris, both boats went two miles up the Monkey River outside Belize City and moored. A storm surge came up the river and lifted the MV Wave Dancer onto the dock breaking it apart. It then fell off the dock upside down in 12 feet of water.

As of 2:30 p.m., Peter Hughes Diving has confirmed to us that of the 30 dive club members, 13 are alive, 10 are missing and 7 are dead.

Search and rescue efforts are being conducted by the British Royal Navy, and representatives from the American Consulate are on site. The phone number for the American Consulate is (202) 647-5226.

The following is a list of persons aboard each ship, and their status:

The Following Were Aboard The Wave Dancer:
David DeBarger
Mary Lou Hayden
Richard Patterson

Phyllis Cox
William Cox

Confirmed Deceased:
James Garrison
Kimberly Garrison
Byron Johnston
Shirley Johnston
Shelia Kelly
William Kelly
Cheryl Lightbound
Raymond Mars
R. Christy McNiel
Charlie Pike
Cynthia Pike
Lisa Powell
Glenn Prillaman
James Topping
Herbert "Buddy" Webb

The Following Were Aboard The Aggressor:
All Survived:
Lorrie Clark
Jeffery Clark
Nancy Morgan
David Mowrer
Stephen Peterson
Jennifer Salvitori
Robert Salvitori
Kenneth Schoen
Don Trice
Tara Williamson

Further updates are available on the Richmond Dive Club website at

[This message has been edited by Marty (edited 10-09-2001).]

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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from Washington Post Wed AM

17 Virginia Divers Feared Dead in Hurricane

By Josh White and Kevin Sullivan

Winds nearing 200 mph and surging seas from Hurricane Iris hurled a chartered boat into the air over a Belize mangrove forest, capsizing the vessel and killing as many as 20 people, including 17 members of a Richmond diving club.

The tourists and crew members had sought refuge at a dock in Big Creek, a sheltered deep-water port in the town of Independence, when they learned that the hurricane was on its way Monday afternoon. Government officials and witnesses said the boat was ripped from its mooring lines when the storm passed about 10 that night, bringing wind gusts of up to 200 mph and ocean swells nearly 20 feet above normal.

The captain of a second boat of divers reported hearing the first boat's mooring lines pop before watching it soar into the air and crash on a dock, coming to rest on its side in about 12 feet of water. Survivors and victims were pulled onto nearby boats as the blinding storm chugged away.

[Linked Image]

"It was . . . an hour and thirty minutes of all hell breaking loose," said Wayne Hasson, co-owner of the boat docked next to the charter.

The M/V Wave Dancer, operated by Miami-based Peter Hughes Diving Inc., was carrying 20 members of the two-year-old Richmond Dive Club and a crew of eight on what was to have been a seven-day tour filled with stunning dives off the Central American coast.

In Richmond last night, club members gathered solemnly at a restaurant for a regularly scheduled meeting. They said the trip to Belize had been the highlight of the nascent organization's calendar -- the ultimate dive, surpassing past excursions off North Carolina and the Bahamas in the last two years. The trip had been in the works for the better part of a year, and the $2,500 slots on one boat filled up in less than a week. A second boat started filling shortly after.

"If I had enough money, I would have been on that trip," said Steve Glenn, the group's lawyer. "People drool over this trip. It's such a dream to do."

Three American crew members -- including the boat's captain -- and 17 Virginia residents are feared dead. As of late yesterday, 18 bodies had been recovered. Belize officials said the divers and crew members were the only deaths from the hurricane.

U.S. government officials said three members of the dive club and five crew members survived the capsizing. Among those dead was the club's president, Glenn Prillaman, 48, a real estate agent from Richmond.

Members of the group described Prillaman as the rallier, the one who got them excited about diving.

"When he got into something, he gets into it with his heart and soul," said Prillaman's fiancee, Margo Minter. "He was just a great friend to have. I'm going to miss him."

A boat operated by Aggressor Fleet that was carrying 10 additional members of the dive club was moored next to the Wave Dancer when the hurricane hit. "Our crew was working to loosen the lines so we could ride with the tide," Hasson said. He said his boat's captain watched in horror as the Wave Dancer's lines began to pop. "They were riding the storm out," he said.

Government officials and a statement from Peter Hughes indicated that the mooring lines snapped under high pressure. "Despite following all procedures for securing the vessel during a hurricane, an unusually strong surge of water apparently lifted the vessel dramatically right at the pier, snapping all of the stern lines and allowing the wind to rip the vessel from the pier," the statement said.

Dive companies use the small lagoon at Big Creek as an escape from major storms; it is protected from the open sea and has been considered a haven for 20 years. Peter Hughes officials said it was impossible to unload passengers at Belize City before the storm hit because the area had been evacuated.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Iris raised seas by 13 to 18 feet above normal and brought rainfall of up to eight inches as it passed Central America. Iris weakened to a tropical depression as it moved into Mexico.

Vaughan Gill, a Belize government spokesman, said the storm caused severe damage to the coastal areas of Stann Creek and Toledo in the south. Gill said the coastal villages of Placencia, population about 600, and Seine Bight lost 80 percent to 90 percent of their structures. Farther south in Monkey River, the only structure left standing was a community center, where those remaining in the evacuated village had taken refuge.

"This is the worst we've had in a long time," Gill said.

Gill said 13,000 to 14,000 people had been left homeless. He said the U.S. government had agreed to supply several Chinook heavy-lift military helicopters to begin transporting tents into the worst-hit areas. The double-rotor Chinooks will be dispatched from a base in Honduras.

The diving tour had chartered a bus to Norfolk because their flight from Richmond was canceled as Continental Airlines scaled back after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 30 divers pushed off from Belize City on Saturday night.

The Wave Dancer and Aggressor set off together, unusual teamwork between competing agencies that allowed the members of the Richmond club to be together. The group dived Sunday and headed into the bay about lunchtime Monday because the storm reportedly was battering the Caymen Islands.

"We knew there was a storm on the way, and we expected the storm to intensify," said Patricia Rose, a Peter Hughes spokeswoman. "Our crew went into the bay to protect ourselves the best way we knew how. I'm not aware of anything that could have been done differently that was foreseeable."

Dave DeBarger, who was on the trip and is the club's vice president, called Minter yesterday to let her know what had happened. Government officials confirmed that two other members -- Mary Lou Hayden and Richard Patterson -- also survived aboard the Wave Dancer.

Last night, as club members in Richmond met privately to console one another, they talked about the dead and missing, softly mourning while still holding out a little hope.

"It's just devastating," said Jerry Campbell, a club member. "These are people you know. They're friends of yours. It's just a difficult thing."

[This message has been edited by Marty (edited 10-10-2001).]

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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More from Washington Post

'I Either Swam Or Climbed,' Man Says of Escape

By Kevin Sullivan

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 9 -- Dinner had just ended in the salon of the Wave Dancer on Monday night, and David DeBarger went below to his cabin to go to sleep. Winds were howling outside, with rain slashing horizontally as Hurricane Iris bore down on the coast of Belize.

Then there was a loud clunk, and then a thump.

DeBarger said weather reports had predicted that Iris would strike about 80 miles to the north, in Belize City. So he and his companions -- 19 others from the Richmond Dive Club -- had felt safe in the boat, moored to a concrete pier in the protected lagoon of Big Creek.

"We weren't treating it as anything serious," DeBarger said in a telephone interview tonight from a Belize City hotel. "I have spent a lot of time on boats. This was just something that you ride out."

But then things suddenly got rougher. DeBarger said he and another passenger began taping the inside of the boat's windows to keep them from shattering in case of flying debris.

As DeBarger began working on the window of the emergency exit, the boat shifted violently and he was thrown against his cabin door. There was yelling. "Put on your life jackets!"

DeBarger scrambled into his cabin and reached for his. But before he could, the boat shifted hard again, throwing him against the cabin's outer wall.

"I felt water immediately. The cabin was filling up," said DeBarger, 57. "The bunk was vertical, and the cabin door was over my head. I either swam or climbed -- I don't know -- to the door and tried to get it open."

In the pitch darkness, DeBarger pushed the door open and made it into the flooded hallway. He swam one way but quickly found himself under water. He swam back down the hall, trying to keep his head in the air pocket. Ahead of him, he could see a flashlight. He heard people's voices.

Someone ahead kicked out the glass in the emergency window he had just been trying to tape. He swam through the hole, about the size of a small television set, and freed himself from the capsized boat. "I felt hands, and people pulled me up into a life raft," he said. "I just went on instinct. I saw a light. I heard a voice call to me. I went to it."

DeBarger didn't know it then, but he and the two other divers in the life raft -- Richard Patterson and Mary Lou Hayden -- were the only Richmond passengers known to have survived the wreck.

They spent almost an hour in the raft, covered in diesel fuel and debris, banging on the upside-down hull, looking for other survivors. Even in the dark, the rain and mighty winds, they could see that their shattered boat had been driven 60 yards across the lagoon from where it had been tied to the pier.

"I've just spent the day watching people fish my friends' bodies out of the water," DeBarger said. "And now I have to spend the morning at the morgue identifying them."

Hurricane decimates Virginia dive club
October 10, 2001 Posted: 5:11 AM EDT (0911 GMT)

RICHMOND, Virginia -- It was supposed to be the kind of trip that scuba divers dream about: warm Caribbean water and reefs teeming with parrotfish, eels and octopus.

Instead, a weeklong trip to Belize turned into a nightmare for 30 members of Virginia's Richmond Dive Club. At least 18 were killed when Hurricane Iris capsized one of their two chartered boats.

"I'm not able to cry yet," said Russell Garrison, whose son, Jim, and Jim's wife, Kimberly, died. "I lost a son and a wonderful daughter-in-law, but I can't cry. I want to."

Seeking refuge from the hurricane Monday night, both boats went up the Monkey River outside Belize City and moored in a small creek. Jim Garrison called his father and told him all was well.

Search began as eye moved over
Boat operators had docked the Wave Dancer alongside two other boats, hoping to shield it from the 140 mph (225 kph) winds, said Lynn McNeal, co-owner of The Dive Shop in Richmond, who said she had been in touch with boat operators.

"I understand they were tied to some submerged type of dock. They had a very, very huge swell come through that snapped all the lines. When the ship came back down, I'm assuming it hit part of the dock," she said.

According to the dive company hired for the trip, the strong surge helped "rip the vessel from the pier and capsize it in the middle of the creek."

Rescue efforts by neighboring boats began immediately during the eye of the hurricane, the dive company noted on its website.

According to the dive club website, 15 club members were confirmed dead and another two members -- identified by the club as Phyllis and William Cox -- were missing. Ten club members aboard a second boat, Belize Aggressor III, were unharmed.

According to details on the website of Peter Hughes Diving, the bodies of 18 victims have been recovered. The company said no hotel rooms were available in Belize City to offload passengers because of evacuations in advance of the storm.

'Our friends are gone'
On Tuesday, the Wave Dancer lay on its side in about 12 feet (four meters) of water just a few steps from land. Stunned passengers wandered about the second boat, watching as the bodies of friends were pulled from the water.

Shock still had not yet yielded to grief as scores of relatives and friends of the dead and missing gathered in Virginia to mourn members of a tight-knit group.

"Ninety-five percent of our friends are gone now," said Milly DeSoi, who with her husband, Darren, had made the diving club the focus of their social life. "You go down the list and you just can't comprehend that they're not here any more."

Several of those now confirmed dead had been in the DeSoi's wedding or had tagged along on the honeymoon three years ago -- a diving trip to the Caribbean.

Death is always a possibility for people who frolic 100 feet (30 meters) below the sea, exploring shipwrecks or gliding over breathtaking vistas of coral and marine life. But nobody was prepared to lose so many divers at once.

"This was a freak accident," said club member Larry Gill. Even tougher to consider, he said, was that four couples are among those known dead and one couple left behind two teen-age sons.

[This message has been edited by Marty (edited 10-10-2001).]

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