Lost scuba diver rescued after almost eight hours at sea – USA TODAY
Melanie Vynalek Pensacola News Journal Published 10:09 PM EDT Jun 25, 2019 PENSACOLA, Fla. – These things only happen on television, until they happen to you. Just before the sun set Sunday on Pensacola Pass, a charter boat rescued a Pensacola scuba diver who had been lost for nearly eight hours. “I never intended anything
PENSACOLA, Fla. – These things only happen on television, until they happen to you.
Just before the sun set Sunday on Pensacola Pass, a charter boat rescued a Pensacola scuba diver who had been lost for nearly eight hours.
“I never intended anything like this to ever happen in my life,” Mike Ozburn told the News Journal on Tuesday.
A network systems engineer for the Pensacola Police Department, Ozburn picked up scuba diving back in November as a way to enjoy his free time. Sunday marked Ozburn’s 35th dive – this time, among the roughest waters he has descended in yet.
Ozburn and a group of friends piled into a boat and began their dive around noon Sunday, about 16 miles offshore in Pensacola Pass.
While gearing up, Ozburn’s elbow hit the inflator hose, letting air into his buoyancy compensator, a control device worn to maintain neutral buoyancy. Not thinking anything of it, he descended into the water but quickly realized the excess air was keeping him from going any farther.
Ozburn vented the buoyancy compensator and descended into the murky waters once more. Due to his equipment malfunction and the lack of underwater visibility, Ozburn couldn’t find his diving buddy.
Swimming deeper, Ozburn reached a flat level of sand, instead of the pyramid shaped surface the divers initially descended upon.
After 10 minutes of unsuccessful searching, Ozburn went up for a three-minute safety stop, finding himself about 150 yards away from the boat and out of sight, he said.
“I inflated my safety buoy and waved my arms, blew my whistle. … They didn’t see it, they didn’t hear it,” he said.
Another five to 10 minutes later, he lost sight of the dive boat.
Ozburn’s crew began a search pattern, and after about an hour, notified the U.S. Coast Guard. A little while later, dive charters volunteered to join the mission.
Lost in the water for hours
As time dragged on, helicopters and boats passed by, none of them noticing Ozburn’s calls for help.
Lost in the water, Ozburn maneuvered his gear to keep him alive and afloat. Using a dive watch and safety buoy, he lined up with the edge of the clouds and kicked toward the direction of shore.
“A lot of interesting things that you do not think about when you dive regularly come into play,” he said.
Ozburn’s neon green safety buoy was one of them. Chosen for its high-visibility color, the buoy failed Ozburn on Sunday because the way the water and sun fell on it caused it to appear white, blending in with the white caps and making it harder to see.
Each time Ozburn had the slightest inkling of a boat passing, he blew his whistle and signaled in that direction.
“I just hoped to God they would hear me,” he said.
Uncertain of his fate, what kept Ozburn kicking was never losing hope, repeating to himself, “there is going to be something else” each time a boat or helicopter passed him by.
His life flashing before him, Ozburn thought of what he would do if he made it out alive: tell his parents he loves them.
“I don’t do that enough, and you have got to tell people you care about in your life that you love them,” he said.
Nearly eight hours later and after 9 miles of drifting, a charter boat came to his rescue at about 7:30 p.m.
Captain Andy Ross and a few divers had set out around 6 p.m. Sunday in response to a distress call about a missing diver. Observing the current’s east direction, Ross calculated a speed of 1 to 1½ MPH multiplied by the amount of time the diver had been missing.
Slowing down around the 7-mile mark, Ross and his crew noticed a “white stick” hanging out of the water – Ozburn’s safety buoy.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Ross said.
At that moment, Ozburn stopped kicking, gave up all his efforts and for the first time that day, he let someone else take care of him.
“I owe them everything, they saved my life,” he said.
Happy, tired and thirsty, Ozburn cracked open a long-awaited Gatorade while the charter boat took him to shore, where he was reunited with his relieved and overjoyed family.
Despite the risk Sunday brought, Ozburn plans on continuing his favorite hobby, though now with higher quality gear and a flashlight always in tow.
Looking back on his harrowing weekend, Ozburn emphasizes the seriousness of safety. If something seems even just a little bit off, speak up. Life-threatening situations are real, and they could happen to anyone.
“I shouldn’t be alive, I should be dead,” Ozburn said.
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