CEBU CITY -- Heo Seung Yung took off his diving gear to swim to the nearest shore and ask for help. He and fellow divers Baek Seung Kyoon and Kim Eun had been at sea for more than 24 hours.
The 43-year-old technical diver didn’t make it to shore alive.
Residents of Himensulan, a coastal village in San Francisco, Camotes Islands, found Heo on the shore around 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 8, said Lieutenant James Reyes, spokesperson of the Naval Forces Central (Navforcen).
Heo still wore his wetsuit.
“Niingon to ang babaye nga kadtong hayag pa naglutaw-lutaw sila, daan na niingon si Yung nga di na niya kaya (Eun said when the three of them were still floating in the sea the previous day, Yun already told them that he didn’t think he would make it),” San Francisco Information Officer Gagal Maningo said.
The Camotes Islands Emergency Response Team went to the area and brought Heo to a funeral home.
Maningo said that Dr. Emmanuel Almadin, the municipal health officer of San Francisco, declared the Korean diver dead around 9 a.m.
A Philippine Air Force helicopter brought Heo’s remains, placed in a white casket, to Lapu-Lapu City Wednesday afternoon.
The three divers were reported missing around 3 p.m. last Sunday, after they went diving off Barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City amid rough seas.
Baek, 34, and Kim, 31, who survived the 48-hour ordeal, were taken to the UC Medical Center after arriving in Lapu-Lapu City Wednesday morning.
A fisherman rescued Kim, the only woman in the group, past 1 p.m. last Tuesday. She was floating in the waters off Himensulan, her diving gear still on.
Maningo said Kim was tied to a “payaw” or a fish aggregating device by Heo so she would survive. Kim had wounds in her face and neck.
About four hours later, Baek, previously reported as a diving instructor, was spotted by locals on the shore of the same village.
The two were brought to the Ricardo Maningo Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. Reyes said Kim had nearly drowned while Baek suffered exhaustion from swimming. Both divers suffered sunburns.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza has suspended the operation of the New Grand Bleu Dive Shop in Punta Engaño.
The divers, who were guests of the dive shop, went diving past 11 a.m. last Sunday. They went to sea without a boat, said Andy Berame of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
“There was a gale warning that day so no boats were allowed to go out to sea. Since they had no boat, it was hard for them to go back to shore because of the strong current,” Berame said in an interview Wednesday.
He said the divers drifted about 44 nautical miles or 82 kilometers from Punta Engaño.
In a press conference Wednesday, Radaza said the City has formed a team to investigate the possible lapses of the New Grand Bleu Dive Shop and recommend whether or not the facility should be allowed to resume its operations.
A report that another Korean guest of a diving facility operated by the dive shop nearly drowned irked the mayor.
“We suspended their operation, but they still allowed guests to dive. They defied our suspension order,” she said.
Andy Kim, the dive shop’s manager, earlier said that the three divers only rented diving equipment from the shop and that the divers signed a waiver.
For Radaza, these were unacceptable excuses.
“No one should be allowed to dive in that weather. The mere fact that they rented out diving equipment dili na mao (was wrong),” she said.
The dive shop’s manager, interviewed Wednesday, said they are taking care of Baek and Kim, who were brought back to Lapu-Lapu City on board a Philippine Navy ship. He said the dive shop will also help with the funeral expenses for Heo.
“I’m so sad... I’m here to take care of them,” he said. The manager went to San Francisco, Camotes after learning the two divers were found alive.
He arrived at the Navforcen in Lapu-Lapu City around 8:30 a.m. with Baek and Kim, who were placed on stretchers. A Navy vessel ferried them, along with two relatives of the female diver.
The helicopter carrying Heo’s remains arrived in Navforcen around 3:30 p.m. A Korean man accompanied the diver’s remains.
Radaza said she has talked with City Attorney Yuri Beluan about a possible ordinance regulating diving and other water sports activities.
For his part, Berame said the dive shops’ safety protocols should be reviewed. He said there are more than 100 dive shops in the city.
Meanwhile, the seven fishermen whose motorized boat sank off Madridejos town in Bantayan Island remained missing as of Wednesday.
The pump boats involved in the search and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) suspended the search last Tuesday due to strong winds and rough seas.
Connie Bachoco, a relative of one of the missing fishermen, said the PCG’s rescue boat encountered engine problems. Bachoco, a casual employee at the Madridejos Treasurer’s Office, said that PCG officers told the brother of one of the missing fishermen that the rescue boat had engine trouble.
Families waiting for updates decided to just go home to Madridejos.
At 4 p.m. last July 2, Johnrey Vergara called the motor boat owner, Anna Mae Claro, and informed her that their boat marked Inday Sweet capsized due to the big waves.
Vergara was with six fishermen identified as Gerry Bangalitan, Antic Celeste, Norberto Patriarca, a certain Abel, a certain Jimbol and a certain Jomar. (RSB/FMG/OCP/Sun.Star Cebu)