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Divers elude death at stormy Cape Maeda

Date Posted: 2006-03-17

Sunday began as a sunny, warm day in Okinawa, a perfect time for scuba diving.

Ten Americans joined others at popular Cape Maeda, a craggy point near Moon Beach, south of Onna Village. The sea was calm, as were the winds, and everyone hit the water. About 3pm, that all changed as winds began gusting, switching from south to north, pummeling the divers and forcing them back to shore.

A female diver caught her leg on the rocks near Blue Cave, then waves swept her back to sea. A diver shop instructor and a colleague swam after her, while others called the 11th Maritime Safety Agency and U.S. authorities. Nearly two hours later, the woman was still missing, along with three other American divers.

Seventy men and women joined the rescue party, struggling with strong winds, rain and approaching darkness as they searched for the missing divers. At 5pm, initial success. Divers found the woman and a male diver, cold but okay.

Still, a 44-year-old Marine and another man were still lost in the foul weather. Dive instructor Bonifacio Cardiz was missing, along with one of his students. The search continued through the night, with divers tied to ropes searching inside the Blue Cave.

More than eight hours later, at 1:30am, a soggy, tired Cardiz and his associate were found in the cave. Experts say this February-March period is most dangerous on Okinawa’s west coast, when typhoon style winds are strong, whipping around and shifting directions often.

Maritime officials say the divers should have known winds would come, noting that a bulletin was issued at 6:23am Sunday, advising of strong winds and high waves. That warning to divers said winds would reach 18 m/s (40mph), with waves reaching five meters in height.

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