Ally Drew and the mystery of the vanished diver

I got an email from my mother yesterday that directed me to an article which described a recent disappearance of a man in Grand Cayman. This is known as one of the premiere diving sites in the whole world, many times listed as more spectacular than the Great Barrier Reef. My mom sent me this article not out of sadness or our shared family interest of diving, but because based on the facts, it was nearly impossible to have added up the way things were presented. She was suspicious, and after reading the article, I decided to lay out what I knew about diving and what I thought were possibilities. 

I started diving 2 years ago in a pool at Hickman High School through Capt. Nemo’s Dive Shop in Columbia, Mo. I decided to get certified because my mom, her husband Craig and my sister were all planning a trip to Utila, Honduras, and I was invited. I got to make the costs a Christmas present as well as a new fancy wetsuit. There are two kinds of certification: SSI and PADI. Neither are too different from one another, so both are accepted worldwide.

When you start diving, you learn all the basics. You learn how to breathe underwater, what the bends and the narkes are, all about your gear and the arguably most important; you learn about your dive buddy.

Every single time you dive, regardless of if you’re on a boat with 10 people or 50, you will be paired with another person you may or may not know, and that person is in charge of saving your life. You’re in charge of saving theirs. If you get lost, your buddy should be the first to know. Frankly, if you’re lost, your buddy theoretically should be lost with you. You’re not supposed to lose sight of one another. Ever. If you do, or you lose sight of the group, there are steps you take to rejoin. You follow these because they’re basically diving law, and when there are things in the ocean that can eat you and it’s a really big, largely unmapped, unpredictable region, you do what you’re told.

The two of you keep tabs on each others’ health, air remaining, behavior and even enjoyment. You learn a dive language that can be communicated underwater so the two of you remain safe and happy. All of this and more is the absolute basics. If you can’t handle these things, you shouldn’t be diving.

Though I’ve had some buddy trouble in the past (disagreements, little English, buddy not listening to a dive master), I know my job and my role. I’ve never lost a buddy, even for a second. My mom and Craig are usually joined at the buddy hip because my mom has trouble clearing her ears on the way down and no trouble clearing her stomach on the way up. Craig, not only as her husband but maybe even more as her buddy, has a responsibility to her well-being.

So, to the original point of this bizarre article. This man was a 57-year-old ex-marine diving with his wife. His wife was his buddy. There were 14 divers and a boat crew as well as two dive masters (who usually lead the group and are extra responsible for lives).

What my mom and I discussed was that first of all, we were missing a lot of significant facts.

What we know:

-Male, (according to commenter) 57, ex-navy, swam frequently.
-Certified open water. Could be anywhere between 5 dives and just below a dive master level.
-has dove Cayman before
-10:20a.m. husband and wife (at least) surfaced (wife said)
-BCD and tank(buoyancy control device-like a vest that you connect your tank to that keeps you as deep or shallow as you want/need to be) was found 120ft. below surface on a wall dive
-Found article of clothing after bcd: commenter suggests a boot for fins, but more likely a shirt or trunks.
-no reported blood in the water
-no reported splashing, thrashing, signs of distress
-100 yards (football field) to the boat where somehow he just went out of sight.
-there was a current, not calm but not especially rough

What we don’t know:

-Why was his BCD found underwater; had it been inflated (which you do when you surface) it should not have sunk.
-If he descended, why?
-What condition they found the BCD and air tank in; was there damage, was the equipment working, was there air in the tank?
-Did anyone besides the wife see him/them surface? (People on the boat are usually watching for this)
-Why did they surface so far away from the boat? (wall dives are not particularly easy to get lost on, and Cayman is known for clear water)
-Was he wearing a dive computer on himself or his bcd? (This would indicate time at depth and descent pattern)
-What was the article of clothing? Was he wearing a weight belt? Mask? Snorkel? Watch?
-Was the article damaged?
-What was water clarity like that day? (all-or most-divers would have noted this in log books)

-Something ate him.
This is unlikely, at least for the first day. At 10:20a.m., very few oceanic predators are about. Most that could eat you are sleeping. His bcd and air tank were off, as well as some article of clothing, it would be strange for him to politely remove these so something could devour his body cleanly. Plus no blood seen.

-He descended for an unknown reason and then was caught on something.
There are very few instances you would ever remove your BCD. One of them is entanglement. If you’re trapped on something, and possibly low on air, you can take your BCD off, keep your air hose (regulator) in your mouth and get it loose. If you are unable to get it loose, your best bet is to drop your weight belt (which you wear to balance your body fat, floatation of your wetsuit and your air-filled tank for when it becomes light) and float to the surface belly up. If this is done, you will end up with severe illness from ascending too fast, but your chances of drowning are lessened.

-He got stuck in a cave.
Similar to the last scenario, caves are very dangerous. If he found himself stuck, lodged or trapped in a cave, he could have taken his bcd off to escape, couldn’t ran out of air and died. In this scenario, though, finding his BCD seems less likely.

-There was a hole in his BCD.
For this one to work, the BCD would have to have a single air pocket, opposed to two separate ones. These keep you afloat at the surface and you inflate them upon arrival there. If he found that his wouldn’t inflate (but he had somehow managed to get to the surface) he could have begun to sink. He would then remove his weights, then his BCD, try and get enough air in his lungs and float belly-up to the top.

He was knocked unconscious by the rocking boat, managed to keep his regulator in his mouth, woke up later out of air, had to emergency surface, and once he did, could find no one.
This seems like a series of unfortunate and lucky events. They found the BCD without the body, which means it had to be manually removed. Had there been no air in the tank, it would have floated. If he was knocked unconscious, it’s unlikely he would have kept the breathing apparatus in his mouth and would have drowned with the BCD on.

He committed suicide after getting on the boat and threw all of his equipment overboard before jumping in weighted.
First of all, that’s a huge waste of money. BCDs are incredibly expensive. It would also mean they have the least attentive and deaf crew ever known to sail. There would have been two loud splashes and a checked in name, but missing equipment. Also a commenter suggests they knew each other and had plans the next weekend.

-He surfaced and was then abducted by aliens.
The aliens clearly had the sense to wipe the memories of all boat crew, other divers and the wife. Equally as likely: the Bermuda triangle and its suspicious activity are expanding or he fell into an ocean wormhole.

-His wife somehow managed to kill him.
She could have claimed they surfaced together, when in actuality, he never did. They got “lost” and she killed him, however, and took his body out of his BCD, took an article of clothing and then separated the three. Maybe they did both get to the top, the crew saw them surface, and then she popped a hole in his BCD and held him under till he drowned. Maybe everyone was in on it, and she paid them off. This seems like the least preposterous idea, but I’m not sure how she’d effectively pull it off.

With all of these things, what still doesn’t make any sense is his wife, the other divers and the crew. His wife claims the two surfaced and he “must have disappeared” on their 100-yard swim to the boat. She thought he got on the boat before her (which would indicate he was swimming ahead of her) and while on the boat, realized later he was missing.

If it was just the two of them that surfaced, it’s really hard to lose one bobbing head beside you. Also, if they did so earlier than the rest of the group, there are only a few reasons why they would have: equipment failure, at least one was out of air, sick or injured or they got lost. Lost is pretty hard to do on a wall dive, and if it were anything else, his buddy (his wife) should have known about it and they wouldn’t have lost track of one another.

If it was more of them that surfaced together, it’s a little easier to get people in wetsuits mixed up, but then dive masters should have been floating around making sure everyone got on the boat (this is usually what they do). Plus, when you swim at the surface the currents and waves beat you about. So you usually swim face-down on your stomach to accommodate for the waves and your inflated BCD. This means everyone while swimming missed a sinking guy.

The crew usually checks off who gets on the boat, their times, air and max depth. This is a standard, international routine. Had he not gotten on the boat when there was no one left in the water just off the boat, they should have known immediately, leaving his absence at give or take 15 minutes.

I did enquire further as to the questions that were left unanswered in every news report I read. Here is what I received back from the Cayman Police Department:

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 9.46.49 AM

Negligence on anyone’s part while diving can be dangerous. In this case, there was clearly negligence on multiple parts, and now a man is completely missing. To me, that’s even more frustrating/shocking/perplexing than just dead. People die cave diving or solo diving or trying to touch jellyfish. This scenario just blows my mind a bit and is a perfect example of how travel can go really wrong. Diving is really fun, but not 100 percent safe, and should never be treated as so. That’s why there are rules, checks and double-checks in place.

To lighten the mood a little, I’ll show you a video taken from one of my dives on the Great Barrier Reef (it’s reminiscent of Finding Nemo)


3 thoughts on “Ally Drew and the mystery of the vanished diver

  1. Obviously we have thought about this a lot because we can’t seem to get through an entire scenario that makes sense. Here are the only two scenarios that I’ve concocted that would be more likely than HORRIBLY bad luck, combined with an inept dive crew : 1) wife turned off his air, he drowned, she inflated the bcd so he surfaced, undid it, and then while swimming back to the boat held onto his bcd so he floated out, weighted he fell to the depths, and she then deflated the bcd, turned the air back on and dropped it. 2) His bcd got stuck and he left it and they did a buddy ascent, but then he died snorkeling back because she wasn’t being a good buddy and doesn’t want to admit it. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service hopefully has answers they aren’t providing but please tell us – was there air in his tank?

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