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“The water was really bad. If I had gone down any deeper I would have been dead too” – Diver

“The water was really bad. If I had gone down any deeper I would have been dead too” – Diver

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Dillon “Bamboo” Baptiste and Zimron Baptiste, two of the divers who have been braving the turbulent waters off the north east coast of St Vincent, seaching for the two schoolgirls who remain missing following the Rock Gutter accident, say they did not hesitate when called upon to help.

When SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Dillon over the weekend, the Sandy Bay resident said {{more}}he was one of the first divers to arrive on the scene after passenger van HL 636, carrying 21 people, most of whom were students, plunged into the sea, killing five and leaving two missing and others hospitalized.

“When someone told me what happened and say they need divers, I just head straight to Rock Gutter. I didn’t even study to drink tea or nothing,” the 35-year-old man said.

“When I got there, I see the Coastguard boat out in the water. A lot of people were there standing, but nobody else was in the water. So, I say alright, I will go in. I was the first person to go in,” Baptiste said.

He said he was transported out into the water by a fibre glass boat and using a pair of diving glasses given to him by someone, he jumped into the water.

Shortly after, he was joined by two other civilian divers.

“We were searching and searching, but is like most of the bodies were shore side and two were still missing.”

According to Dillon, at one point, the water became so turbulent that it was nearly impossible for them to dive properly or see anything below.

“The water was really bad. I say if I been go down further and one of them waves catch me, is dead I would have been dead too.”

He said they then decided it would be safer for them to wait to see if any of the bodies floated to the surface, at which point, they would take them out to the coastguard vessel that was some distance out in the water.

But none of the bodies surfaced.

Dillon said he then made his way out to the coastguard vessel. He said he was told by the personnel on board that a diving team would soon be arriving to assist with the search for the bodies.

The divers soon came, but according to Dillon, they did not spend very long in the water.

“About five to ten minutes after when the divers reach, one jumped into the water with a life jacket, but he didn’t follow us. He swim a certain place and it looked like he couldn’t handle the water, so he went back on the boat.

“…Another coastguard diver jump off and by this time he had come close to the shoreside with us. He didn’t even spend about a 10 minutes in the water good and he go back on the boat,” Baptiste said, adding that he and the other civilian divers spent about three hours in the water.

He said it was only when the bodies washed ashore and became lodged between the rocks, that with the help of others, they were able to pull some of the bodies out of the water.

Dillon, who said he has been diving for more than 20 years, told SEARCHLIGHT that he “felt bad” that more lives could not have be saved, but they did the best that could have been done.

“I feel really funny about it, because when I saw the water washing the bodies on the rocks, I said I really had to go and do something to help. I couldn’t just stand there, he added.

Another diver, Zimron Baptiste, a 22-year-old fisherman of Owia, said he did not believe when he first heard the news.

“I didn’t believe it at first. Then I got a second call and that was the time I believe. I try hustle up now to go see what happened, because I know everyone was looking for me,” Zimron said.

According to Zimron, when he arrived at the scene, throngs had already flocked to the seaside to see what was taking place.

“I saw like persons floating in the water and people told me they need help. The police man (Station Sergeant Hezron Ballantyne) who lost his daughter tell me he want help, because he really want to find his daughter.

“[Ballantyne] carried me home to get my gears and after I reach back, I saw about two bodies in the water and some of them had already washed ashore,” Zimron recounted.

He said he, however, did not immediately enter the water, as he saw the coastguard there and thought they had the situation under control.

“After I saw divers from the coastguard, I say they done get everybody, but that wasn’t the case. Dem ain’t really do anything, is like we who do the work. Coastguard ain’t get nobody. I’m just really sad that people lost their lives,” Zimron added.

The young fisherman said he believes that had he been on the scene of the accident earlier, he may have been able to save at least one of the lives that was lost.

The diver of eight years said he was carried out to sea by a speedboat, because of the raging waters.

“I search, I go right down as far as I could go, but I wasn’t seeing any body,” he said, adding that the water had become rougher and dirty, making it hard to see anything.

“I had a feeling that they (bodies) were around… I couldn’t really see much, but I was seeing like their school clothes, shoes and so on. I picked up some of them and brought them back to shore,” he added.

Asked if he was scared for his own safety, Zimron chuckled and replied, “No, not really. I was just a bit nervous, because it was the first time I was going to dive for dead bodies. I’m accustomed to these waters, just mean that it was really rough that day.”

When SEARCHLIGHT contacted Zimron and Dillon yesterday for an update, both indicated that they had gone back out to sea over the weekend, but were unsuccessful in their search for the missing girls.

In a brief interview yesterday, Coastguard Commander Brenton Caine declined to comment, stating that more would be said in due course.

Up to press time, the bodies of 15-year-old Chanstacia Stay and 13-year-old Simonique Ballantyne were still missing.

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