Lost and Found
Miracles: A diver’s dark night and her uncanny rescue.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
When a blue light pierced the darkness last Easter Sunday, 32-year-old scuba diver Jennifer Thomas thought she was dreaming.
After five hours drifting in the 54-degree water of Monterey Bay, she was exhausted and afraid she might be hallucinating. She’d drifted six miles from Lovers Point and now bobbed helplessly in the water a mile and a half off Moss Landing. It was night. Winds gusting 50mph chopped up the 10-foot swells as they rolled into the bay. Desperate, Thomas began yelling out to the otherworldly blue beacon and flashing the small dive light she carried.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Daniel Sunday and his crew had already been searching for hours. They’d originally responded to a report that there was a diver on a small boat off Lovers Point waving his arms around 4pm.
“When we got out there we discovered four divers had surfaced, but they were missing someone,” Sunday says.
To make matters worse, the fierce wind gusts had dislodged the divers’ boat anchor, and their craft had been pushed out into the bay with its inexperienced operator still on board.
“We transferred the divers onto our boat and they took us to where they had entered the water,” Sunday says. “On the way to the entry point, we saw the boat coming back from the direction of Santa Cruz.”
Sunday and his men quickly reached the divers’ point of entry. “We calculated which direction she would have been drifting and at what speed and the time in the water. Considering a drift rate of two knots, we decided to do a search pattern in an area about four miles to the north of where she went into the water.”
But as the sun began to set and darkness fell over the bay, there was no sign of Thomas. Sunday chose to return the cold, exhausted divers to the dock and reconfigured his crew’s search pattern a bit.
“We went up north about a half-mile off Moss Landing. That’s where we heard a missing kayaker had washed ashore earlier in the day,” Sunday says. “About 10 minutes later we saw a small blinking flashlight. We went over to take a look and were about a half-mile away when we heard cries for help. A female voice.”
“I broke down crying,’’ Thomas told the San Jose Mercury News days after the rescue, “I remember telling them, ‘I can’t believe you found me, do not let go of me.’”
“It was a miracle in the sense that she was the only diver in the group with a flashlight,” Sunday says. “We may never have found her without it.”
Perhaps a bigger miracle is the fact that Thomas told the Mercury News she planned to dive again the following week.
“Everything you do in life has its danger,” Thomas said. “Diving is fun. It’s something I love to do. It’s not something I would ever give up. Sometimes, things happen.”