21 November 2005

New Zealand: Japanese diver adrift for 2 and a half hours

Saturday was going to be Yuki Fujita's day to remember. It was, but for all the wrong reasons.

The 28-year-old from Kobe, Japan, got her much-hoped-for working visa in the mail that morning, just in time to begin a job at Wellington Hospital today.

She had a party on Saturday afternoon, and the day began so well she was sure that during the lunchtime dive she was doing with friends off Wellington's south coast, she would catch some crayfish to take.

Instead, after surfacing, she couldn't find her friends or the dive boat. Paddling for her life in heavy seas, she drifted 4.5 kilometres wearing her scuba tank and weight belt, at times able to hear a helicopter searching for her far away, and wondering what her mother would think if she drowned.

About the same time, back in Kobe, her mother, Mieko Fujita, was visiting the shrine at the family grave to pray, a prayer Mrs Fujita believes helped save her daughter's life.

For after 2 and a half hours adrift, when Ms Fujita had almost given up and land was out of sight, the police launch Lady Elizabeth III suddenly appeared, on its way to the search zone many kilometres away. "It was my last hope, and I yelled 'help, help' and waved my rescue sausage," she recalled yesterday, referring to the bright-orange inflatable strip divers carry to draw attention in an emergency.

She was pulled from the water and only then realised how near she had come to death. "I started shaking and burst into tears and vowed I would never scuba-dive again."

Ms Fujita, who came to New Zealand for a working holiday a year ago, is an experienced diver who had made many dives with the group, which included her dive buddy, Brett Bailey. Buddies are meant to stay together under water. After the group began the dive in 15 metres of water about 11.45am on Saturday, Mr Bailey did not see Ms Fujita, but was given a signal by the instructor with them that she had surfaced and was fine, so he continued the dive.

The sea was rough as they had motored to the dive spot, about 500m offshore, near the Karori lighthouse, and Ms Fujita had felt ill, so Mr Bailey assumed she'd decided to abandon the dive and stay on the boat. "It was a mistake among a series of mistakes we made," Mr Bailey said yesterday. "Buddies should never split for a moment, and I shouldn't have accepted (the instructor's signal) that she was okay."

Source: www.stuff.co.nz


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