Monday, December 16, 2013

Part 1: Here's what happened on December 18, 2011

This post has been a long time coming...

I am going to tell you, as best as I can ascertain, what happened on December 18, 2011. The information here is culled from conversations with investigators, and my own reading of the accident reports and witness statements. I will not claim everything as absolute fact, because if you've ever been involved in any way with a disastrous incident, you know that things can be so chaotic that it's possible that no one will be able to determine the exact correctness of every detail. That being said, this account, I'm confident, is pretty right on.

On the afternoon of December 18, the Key Largo Scuba Shack boat "Get Wet" was moored at Molasses Reef off the coast of the Florida Keys. There were six divers, three of them "discover" divers (beginners, who had gone through the training that morning in a pool), and three more experienced divers, one of whom was Aimee's sister-in-law Caroline. Aimee was one of the discover divers, going on her first-ever scuba dive excursion.

While the divers were out on the first of two planned dives, water started coming over the back (stern) of the boat as the waves picked up a bit. Since the transom (back wall) of the boat had a section cut out to allow divers on and off the boat (as opposed to a door that opened and closed, and might have had some seal around it to keep water out), the water came onto the deck. Normally, the water would roll back off, but the engine hatch, which also held a large bench and storage bin built into it, was not properly sealed, nor was it properly secured. Other hatches also appear to have been both improperly sealed or secured.

Since there were hatches that were not sealed, water began spilling down into the hull of the boat, and at an alarming rate. Further complicating matters, the bilge pump (which pumps water out of a boat's hull) stopped working. The boat captain, John, posted this on his Facebook page while the divers were in the water.

As the first dive was completed and the divers returned to the boat, the water situation was becoming worse. Apparently there was some discussion about whether or not the second dive would happen, and there seem to be conflicting reports on whether or not the boat was headed to the second dive or headed back to port. As best as I can tell, the boat captain was taking the boat back to shore.

As the boat continued to take on water, and the stern dragged deeper into the water, the captain had the divers move farther towards the front, under the hard top of the boat. Apparently, he was trying to counterbalance the dragging back end by putting more weight at the front. There seemed to be a brief and tense conversation between the dive instructor (Kara) and John. At some point, John apparently also sent out a distress call, which was overheard by a nearby boat. Then, moments later, the Get Wet rocked hard to the left (port) as the amount of water in the hull reached a critical level, and then the boat capsized, sinking stern first.

When the boat rolled, Aimee was thrown from the starboard (right) side to the other. The unsecured engine hatch (the huge bench/box in the photo below) broke loose from its place and pinned her to the front window of the boat. Caroline was pushed out a window by Kara, and most of the others found their way out as well. The exception was a young man from New Jersey by the name of Amit, who was also trapped in the boat (though in a different place).
This large bench is also the engine hatch. Although it's in
its proper place in this post-accident photo, this is what
apparently broke loose and pinned Aimee to the front
window of the boat. This photo was taken as part of the
 investigation after the boat was salvaged from the water 

As those who escaped the boat reached the surface, they found a raft that had been on the top of the Get Wet now floating in the water, and they made their way to that. At this time, is also became apparent that two people were missing. John, the boat captain, grabbed some scuba dive equipment that was floating in the water and headed down to the now sunken boat. Another scuba dive boat (The "Visibility") moored nearby, which had heard the distress call moments earlier, pulled anchor and headed over to rescue the people in the water.

After a short period of time, and after the people on the "Visibility" had rescued those in the water, John resurfaced with Amit, who was unconscious and not breathing. Amit was pulled onto the Visibility, and someone on the boat began CPR. John then re-submerged to find Aimee.

When John returned to the sunken boat, he first found one of Aimee's arms sticking out a window. When he pulled on it to try and free her, he was unsuccessful, so he went back into the boat and essentially through the engine hatch, under which Aimee was still pinned. Finding where she was stuck, he freed her, and then brought her to the surface. By this time, Amit had been revived and was receiving oxygen, though he was still unconscious. Aimee was pulled on board and people began to administer CPR. The Visibility then headed towards the shore.

Although CPR was administered to Aimee during the entire ride (roughly 25 minutes), she never resumed breathing. EMS met the boat as it arrived on shore, and EMTs took over the CPR. But apparently they stopped fairly quickly, recognizing the futility of their efforts. They pronounced her dead, and left Aimee's body on the boat until the Medical Examiner's Office arrived to take possession of her body.

Amit was taken to a local hospital, then flown to a hospital in Miami. From what information I have, he has made a complete recovery (at least physically).

At some point after the boat reached shore, Caroline called her husband (Aimee's brother) Justin and told him he needed to come to the marina immediately, that something had happened with the boat. Justin, frantic, asked me for the keys to my rental car, sharing only that there was a problem with the boat and he needed to go. He left, and did not return my texts or calls while he was gone. I don't recall how long that was, but it felt like an eternity.

When he returned, he was with two law enforcement officers, a member of the local clergy, and a victim's advocate. Caroline was also with him, although she stayed in the car for some time before she came into the house.

That's when I received the terrible news: Aimee was dead.

There are a few things I have focused on in regards to this accident, some of which I'll expand more on in the next post. 1. Why were the hatches not properly sealed to prevent water from getting into the hull in such catastrophic amounts? 2. Why was the engine hatch not properly fastened to the deck, the failure to do so being the reason Aimee was pinned in the boat? 3. Instead of trying to save the boat by putting people toward the front of the boat and under the hard top, why weren't people put in life jackets and moved to a position where they could easily escape if necessary? And finally, 4. Why did the dive master, the person likely most responsible for the well-being of those beginning divers, not also attempt to help rescue the two people who were missing?

Like I said, I'll get more into these in the next post.

Part 2: The various players in this tragedy, and my determination of their role in Aimee's death
Part 3. What I'd like to see in the aftermath of Aimee's death


  1. Pat, I am just speechless, this tragedy should of never happened. I agree with you, why had the dive master not at least help in the rescue of the 2 that were missing. My thoughts and prayers are still with you and Rowan.

  2. Unsafe in so many ways... no watertight integrity. You don't put passengers in position to be ballast during a sinking.
    This was criminal negligence. I am so sorry for your pain and loss.