|WAVE DANCER CAPSIZED BY HURRICANE IRIS |
| DATELINE: October 9, 2001 Big Creek, Belize
Hurricane Iris, packing 140 mph winds, made landfall in the southern (Placencia) region of the Central American Country of Belize during the evening of October 8, 2001, capsizing the liveaboard dive vessel M/V Wave Dancer with all twenty-eight passengers and crew onboard. As of Tuesday afternoon, the bodies of eighteen victims had been recovered. Eight survivors had been accounted for as of Tuesday morning, and search and recovery operations are ongoing. Two members of the passengers/crew are still missing.
The liveaboard dive vessel M/V Wave Dancer of the Peter Hughes Diving DANCER FLEET was capsized by a combination of strong wind and surging water while moored in Big Creek, an area of Southern Belize well known to boaters for its protection from storms. Big Creek is approximately 80 miles south of Belize City, the site of Belize’s international airport and the point of embarkation for Wave Dancer cruises. No hotel rooms were available in Belize City to offload the passengers because this area of Belize was evacuated. Large portions of Belize City were destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961.
The Wave Dancer was moored to a pier with other commercial vessels that routinely use this area as a refuge from storms and hurricanes. This area and a similar procedure was used in 1998 to avoid Hurricane Mitch. Despite following all procedures for securing the vessel during a hurricane, an unusually strong surge of water apparently lifted the vessel dramatically right at the pier, snapping all of the stern lines and allowing the wind to rip the vessel from the pier and capsize it in the middle of the creek. This occurred during the evening hours, and rescue efforts from neighboring boats began immediately during the “eye” of the hurricane in late evening. As the storm resumed rescue efforts were halted for a few hours and commenced early Tuesday morning when conditions permitted.
According to PHD spokesperson and Executive Vice President Tom Conlin: “Our first responsibility in this tragedy is to continue all search and recovery efforts. Peter Hughes, President of the company, left for Belize as soon as we received word of the accident, and will personally participate in all ongoing efforts. Helicopters and search boats have been deployed to the area and are searching all areas of the mangrove system. All of the families have been contacted to keep them informed about all details of both victims and survivors. We will provide further information and a list of passengers and crew once all these facts are confirmed and the families are notified.”
The l20 foot Wave Dancer is part of the Peter Hughes Diving Fleet of liveaboard dive vessels. The M/V Wave Dancer had been in operation in Belize for nine years without incident prior to Hurricane Iris. The vessel had been chartered by the Richmond Dive Club of Richmond, VA.
According to British military sources on station in Belize, the most concentrated force of Hurricane Iris hit an area of the Belize coast 15 miles wide. This path, featuring the most intense wind and water movement, was centered directly on the Placencia/Big Creek area.
DATELINE: October 10, 2001 Big Creek, Belize, C.A.
Two passengers are still missing and are believed to be within the Wave Dancer. By Thursday AM rescue workers will continue to search the vessel for the two remaining victims.
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