I had a call out to go as crew on one of the recue boats to search for a diver missing off the coast. We the distress call from the diver’s friend, after the diver failed to surface and make it back to the boat. Water police helicopters and two boats were sent out to search.
I was on look out on the fly bridge of one of our vessel’s Sea Guardian II. The seas were rough with about two and a half metre swells and strong winds. We searched for over two hours then were informed that the diver had miraculously made it back to shore north of Two Rocks. This is the account of the diver ‘s experience from the West Australian newspaper.
“A diver who swam 8km to shore in rough seas after losing contact with his boat off Two Rocks yesterday fought severe leg cramps and vomiting to make it to safety.
Father-of-two Darrin Wells was fishing with a friend when he decided to go scuba diving to search for more fish.
When he surfaced almost an hour later, the 47-year-old knew he was in trouble.
The calm waters he dove into had been whipped up by a strong wind and in the choppy seas he had difficulty seeing his anchored boat.
The 47-year-old said he was only about 200m from the 6m vessel but it took him about 10 minutes to see it.
“Eventually I spotted the boat and tried to swim towards it but I realised I was actually just getting blown away,” he said.
When he had not returned to the boat by the time agreed, his friend Richard radioed from the boat for help and the sea rescue volunteers and water police and helicopters began a search.
An experienced diver and member of the Whitfords Volunteer Sea Rescue Group, Mr Wells knew he should stay where he was and wait for help.
But he feared his chance of being rescued before nightfall was small because searchers would be looking out into the sun and he would be difficult to see in his black scuba gear and rough seas.
“I thought if I stay where I am and I wait for searchers to find me, they have about 3.5 hours before it gets dark,” he recounted.
“If they don’t find me before it gets dark, things are going to change dramatically.”
Mr Wells decided to start swimming to shore.
“I tried to swim towards the boat but I was actually just swallowing a lot of water and I was getting really worn out and I wasn’t getting anywhere,” he said. “I knew the shore was about 8km away and I thought I’m a strong swimmer I’m going to have to go for the shore.”
He started kicking on his back but after about 20 minutes he ditched his scuba gear and started doing freestyle.
“I could see the helicopters and I tried stopping and holding my orange flippers up and waving it at them but I would have been on the sun side and looking into the sun you can’t see anything,” he said.
Mr Wells said he was a strong swimmer but became worried he might not make it when he started being sick about 3km from shore.
“I’d swallowed so much sea water that I got violently ill and I got cramps,” he said. “That was something that I couldn’t control and I was now thinking, I didn’t know if it was going to stop.”
He managed to keep swimming but his ordeal did not end when he reached shore.
The father of two was almost 5km north of Two Rocks and started an agonising run to the volunteer sea rescue base to let everyone know he was safe.
Mr Wells, who said he always logged his boating trips with the sea rescue volunteers, said he could not thank them and the water police enough for their efforts.
“The effort they put in and the dedication and the response from the water police was just beyond comprehension,” he said.
Sore and tired, Mr Wells had to return to work to Newman today but he said he was recovering and planned to keep diving.”