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Coast Guard plucks lost diver from gulf

The 27-year-old woman was floating alone in the water for more than a day.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


YANKEETOWN -- Separated from her fiance after they dove in the Gulf of Mexico, Kristine Green drifted for more than a day, enduring both a boiling hot sun and the terror of darkness.

The 27-year-old floated like a stick in the water and was almost as difficult to find.

But after several sorties beginning Sunday evening, Coast Guard rescuers located the helpless diver Monday about 2:35 p.m., plucking her from the open water about 5 miles west of Yankeetown in south Levy County.

Green, wearing only her buoyancy straps and scuba tank, was in obvious pain after spending more than 25 hours in mid-80-degree water, Coast Guard Lt. Charles Bell said. But she had enough energy left to inquire about her partner.

Thanks to a passing boater, Douglas Wilson, 35, had been safe for more than a day since being discovered around 1 p.m. Sunday while clinging to a directional pylon 5 miles to the north, Bell said.

"She was alert and conscious, obviously dehydrated, suffering from exhaustion," said Bell, who co-piloted the successful rescue mission out of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater. "She wanted to know if he was found. We said, "Yes, he was.'

"As soon as we got her on the helicopter, we put her on oxygen and wrapped her in blankets," he said. "Her will to survive kept her alive so long."

Green, who lives with Wilson in Citra, north of Ocala, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. She was treated and released. Wilson was not admitted.

The Coast Guard learned of Green's dilemma from Wilson. But as of Monday evening, investigators still were looking for a clear explanation of the incident.

They could not say how the pair lost track of their boat and got separated from one another. Consequently, they cannot say how long they were stuck in the water.

Investigators are waiting to hear Green's version of events, Bell said. The Levy County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's bureau of marine patrol are assisting in the investigation.

The outing began early Saturday afternoon when Green and Wilson launched out of the Wacasassa River. They were about 9 miles from shore when troubles began, according to a news release from the commission's local marine patrol unit.

One of them dove and the other snorkeled, Bell said. At some point, Wilson gave her the scuba tank and they split off.

When he was found clinging to the pylon, Wilson was wearing a wet suit with cut-off arms and legs, said Paul Roberts, a boatswain mate 3 with the Coast Guard station in Yankeetown.

Coast Guard rescuers flew their first helicopter mission at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and tried one more sortie before starting again 5:30 a.m. Monday. At 11:25 a.m. they took off on Monday's third flight from Clearwater and finally located Green floating about 5 miles west of County Road 40.

"I don't know what she did mentally to stay alive that long," he said.

Although the gulf waters are warm, temperatures are well below normal body temperature, Roberts said.

"Even though the water temperature isn't cold, it isn't as hot as your body temperature," he said. "Exposure is what kills a lot of people. "She was delirious," he said. "It's a miracle she's alive."

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