Everything was going swimmingly for California couple Michael and Lynda Evans on a diving excursion 5 miles off Florida’s Key Largo -- until they surfaced to find the boat that took them to sea had left without them. The couple endured 26 hours clinging to a steel tower
on a remote reef before being spotted by a passing pleasure craft and picked up by a state wildlife officer.
The dive company’s owner, Ricardo Investments Corp.
, pleaded guilty to grossly negligent operation of the dive boat Aqua Nut Divers
II and was sentenced to two years probation and fined $1,000, justice officials said late on Tuesday. The incident occurred in February 2000. The Evanses, experienced divers, surfaced from a first dive spot to find the boat had gone. They swam to a second dive site, where they were able to climb a steel tower to get out of the water and were eventually picked up, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. The vessel’s crew meanwhile failed to notice they were missing and returned to Key Largo. Although the company, Aqua Nut Divers, found the couple’s dive bags on board, it made no effort to find out if the couple had been left behind, the statement said. As part of a plea agreement, Ricardo Investments committed to establishing a dive safety program and making it available to other dive companies.
In a separate Coast Guard administrative proceeding, the captain of the vessel, James Evans, had his Coast Guard license suspended for a year for negligence. — (Reuters)