My mind started playing tricks: Diver lost at sea tells of night-time terror

Matthew Lafrance, right, and Swayam Rawal after their rescue

A Canadian diving instructor has spoken of his terrifying experience after he became separated from his boat miles out to sea.

Matthew Lafrance and Swayam Rawal from the US were diving off Apo Island when they lost contact with their charter boat.

As night began to fall, the two men began to fear the worst.

Speaking exclusively to PLN today (Thursday, February 1), Mr Lafrance describes how the potentially life-threatening events panned out on Monday:

We went into the water at 1.08pm and surfaced at 1.54. We were moving fast with the current so I put a signal marker up at about 1.43. This was so the boat could see us and follow us. 

After an hour on surface the boat started moving. By this point we had been blowing whistles and had put up a second safety marker. At 4:21 we watched the boat went back to the mainland. 

As the boat left, I knew we had turned from urgency to full on emergency. I looked at the sun moving towards the horizon. 

I looked at my diver and asked him if he has any training in stress management.  Internally I’m going through all my training. I said we have about two hours before the sun goes down. 

When it does, our brains are going to do some crazy things. We need to try to keep our heads level and we are going to need to help each other try to keep control.

We needed a plan. We couldn’t swim to Apo Island because of the current.

Instead, we needed to try to swim to the big Island of Negros. I asked him if he agreed because at this point — as much as I am supposed to be the authority — we were just two people in the middle of the ocean so we needed to be a team on all decisions.

So, we made a tether so we couldn’t get separated and dumped our weights. I showed him my compass so he knew where it was and we agreed we swim north.

The sun went down. That was a very bad feeling. However, the moon was big and bright, so we focused on that as hope that we could be seen.

So we swam, and my mind started doing crazy things. I thought I saw things near us in the water, even though there was nothing there.

The worst part was when thoughts of my family, my kids, went through my mind. Those almost put me over the edge. Somehow we both managed to keep ourselves under control.

As the time went on the cold started to get to us. At about 8.30 we talked about how cold we were and I could see in his eyes, and I knew my eyes told the desperation we felt.

At about 9pm, I saw lights and asked him if they were close. I need glasses and couldn’t really tell. He said he thought it was far. I lifted the edge of my hood and said: “I think I can hear the engine.”

“You’re right, me too,” he replied

We started yelling and blowing our whistles. I reinflated the surface marker that I had rolled up and put away when the sun went down.

The boat went by us. And I thought, “We are fucked”.

He kept yelling. And then he said: “I think the are stopping, I think they are turning.”

Then a big bright spot light came on high up in the boat.

He yelled: “They are looking for us!” And I thought: “Holy shit, they really are.” We got really loud and swam hard.

The spotlight missed us a few times and then after some time it focused on us and it stayed on us.

That is the most amount of adrenaline that has ever been pumped through my body

At 9:50pm we were on the boat [The MV Fortune Gold]. I drank five litres of water in an hour. They gave us a bit of food, some dry things and towel and access to internet to let people know we were rescued.

Then we were taken into port where the coast guard was waiting for us. 

Contrary to some media reports, Mr Lafrance and his companion were not “dumped” by the ship’s captain out of any sort of negligence or incompetence. He continued:

I went to see the crew of the boat today and we had a good hug. We all fought back the tears. These guys are my friends. 

They did look for us. They sent divers in the water and didn’t leave until the coast guard told them to go as they had more than 30 guests to get back to the main island.

After they dropped the guests,  they went back to continue the search. I don’t know how things will be for them going forward with coast guard and police investigations. I wish no ill towards any of them. 

The best that could come of this is better training by all parties involved, a more clear set of regulations and a quicker and more intense action for search.