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We took all necessary safety precautions – Master diver

We took all necessary safety precautions – Master diver

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Master diver in the St Vincent Coastguard Service, petty officer Lennox Williams says he and his divers took all of the necessary safety precautions possible in responding to the Rock Gutter accident, on January 12.

“As a diver, the first thing you consider is the weather and the level of{{more}} safety at hand. Safety is the Coastguard’s motto. That is the first thing we will preach on any diving operation,” he said, as he addressed the media on Wednesday.

According to Williams, a qualified deep sea specialist, in responding to the accident, he quickly assembled a team of three other qualified divers, along with equipment to head to Rock Gutter.

Williams is responsible for all diving operations for the Coastguard and has received training from the US naval and salvage training centre.

“Being briefed on the way (to Rock Gutter), I also realized that the environmental condition would have been a factor by the time I got to Rock Gutter. These are areas that we patrol every day. These are areas that we know,” Williams told reporters.

On arrival at Rock Gutter, Williams said they met coastguard vessel SVG 11, which, along with other coastguard personnel, had on board three civilian divers.

Williams said he spoke to all of the persons on board SVG 11 before inviting them aboard his boat.

“I gave them a safety brief, … the coastguard policy and any diving organization [is that we] do not practise with a single diver being in the water. That is a big no-no. We do not adhere to those kinds of ills in the coastguard,” he said.

“I had one coastguard person as a safety diver. His duty and responsibility, as I instructed to him, was not to get involved. His responsibility was to keep an eye on me and the other divers. Anything that would have gotten out of hand or deemed dangerous at the time, he would have alerted us and we would have changed to suit,” he added.

Williams said when they entered the “deep” and “treacherous” waters, they realized that the height of the waves was very challenging.

“The current was very strong. The visibility of the water was very poor. Visibility was about 10 feet below. As we got in closer to the rocks, we realized that we could not, for life and the possibility of getting life threatening injuries, that we could not have passed that point where the waves were crashing on the rocks,” Williams said.

According to the experienced diver, they came face to face with large boulders, caves, and sharp rocks.

“There were no local divers, no coastguard personnel who could have been seen or gone into that part of treacherous water. We searched on the outskirts and we retrieved a number of items, which amounted to seven or eight bags. Most of them were school bags…,” he said.

At one point, Williams said one of the coastguard divers began experiencing cramps and had to be taken out of the water.

While they continued their search, Williams stated that they saw what appeared to be the body of a dead male in the water, which he said washed up on the rocks and was retrieved by persons there.

“That was the only body I saw that was retrieved then. While there, I did not see any body floating, whether outside or inside that area. There was also no one that needed the coastguard assistance for life-saving. We were basically there to retrieve dead bodies,” he said.

He noted that they remained in the water throughout most of the morning, but the current and waves were becoming more violent.

With his 18 years of experience, Williams, for safety precautions, made the decision to leave the water.

“The local guys were the first ones who said the water is getting terrible and we need to get out. I came to a decision on safety, even though I know the nature of how persons were feeling ashore. I have been through this many times where persons believe that someone is still alive under the water…”

“In essence, you can’t search when you are trying to rescue yourself. We went back on a unanimous decision that we would do some more surface search until the condition of the water subsided, but the water did not. The water was actually crashing from sea to where persons were standing.”

He said his team remained at Rock Gutter for the entire day, until they were given orders to head back to base.

Since then, search efforts for two missing persons continued throughout the entire week.

Up to press time, the search was continuing for Simonique Ballantyne, 13, a student of the Georgetown Secondary School and Chanstacia Stay, of the North Union Secondary School.

Five other persons have been confirmed dead from that accident, which occured when minibus HL 636, driven by Ravanan Nanton, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on January 12.(KW)

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