After drifting helplessly in the Gulf of Mexico for more than a full day, a middle-aged Florida couple had to face a grim truth: If they weren’t rescued soon, they’d end up like the couple in “Open Water,” the 2004 film about a man and a woman who are left behind by their dive boat and end up as shark bait.
Fortunately for Timothy and Paula Allen, two teenage brothers were in the right place at the right time to give their story a happy ending.
After being caught in a current during a dive that separated them from their boat, the pair had spent the afternoon and night and then the next morning hoping in increasing desperation, striving without success to get the attention of one the boats passing by without seeing them.
‘Our last chance’
Finally, suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, with hallucinations playing tricks with their eyes, they saw an anchored boat they thought they could get to.
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“I told my husband, this is our last chance. If we don’t do it, we’re going to die,” Paula Allen, 48, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in New York Tuesday as she recounted the harrowing ordeal. Joining her were her husband, Timothy; the two boys who saved them, Patrick Pinder Jr. and Garrett Pinder, and the boys’ father, Patrick Pinder Sr.
The Allens had been scuba diving for about two years. On Saturday, May 9, they set out alone in their 24-foot boat, motoring into the Gulf of Mexico for a day’s enjoyment. But, Timothy Allen admitted to Vieira, they violated two basic safety rules for divers: They didn’t bring someone else to man the boat while they were underwater, and they didn’t file a dive plan or tell anyone on shore where they were going.
“I’m a police officer and the big thing we preach is not to become complacent,” Timothy Allen, 52, told Vieira. Yet that is exactly what he did.
When the Allens surfaced after their dive, they saw that a strong current had pulled them away from their boat. Tired from their dive, they couldn’t fight the current to get back to safety and were pulled away into the Gulf of Mexico.
They watched at least four boats pass them by. Most were a mile or more away, too far to be able to see two divers bobbing in the swells and waves. But one passed within 35 to 50 feet — so close that the Allens could see a woman with a child standing in the vessel with their backs to them.
Although they never saw a shark, the thought of an attack was always with them, and Paula clutched a spear gun through the night — her security blanket.
Finally, Timothy thought he saw a boat tie up to a buoy and put up a dive flag about 6 miles away.
“It was probably midday the second day. I started having hallucinations and seeing things that weren’t there,” Timothy said. “I didn’t trust my eyes, so I had to confirm it with Paula.”
When his wife confirmed that there was a boat, they determined to swim to it. The current they were riding was running about 3 mph, Timothy estimated, and was heading straight for the anchored boat. He figured that if one of the boaters was doing two dives, that would give them two hours to cover the distance — just enough time.
‘You saved my life’
The boat belonged to Patrick Pinder, who had gone out for a dive with his sons, Patrick Jr., 18, and Garrett, 17. While the boys tended the boat and snorkeled, Patrick, Sr., was underwater.
The Allens had swum to within 100-150 yards of the Pinders’ boat when the boys spotted the two divers and realized something was wrong.
“It was like they were in distress,” Garrett told Vieira. “We knew we had to help them.”
But they didn’t know how desperate the Allens were until they untied their boat and motored over to help them.
Paula Allen was too weak to do anything. When the boys arrived, she looked at them and said, “Oh my God, you saved my life.”
The Allens were aboard and safe by the time Patrick Sr. surfaced. When he looked in his boat, he had a hard time figuring out what had happened. “I had some guests in my boat and I didn’t know where they came from,” he told Vieira wryly.
He called the Coast Guard, which came to transport the Allens to a hospital. Timothy was in decent shape, but his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, was kept for several days to recover.
The Allens’ boat was recovered, and they said they will continue diving — although Timothy Allen said he’d learned his lesson and would not go out again without backup, nor without telling people on shore where they were going and when they expected to return.
The Pinder brothers, meanwhile, are being hailed as heroes. Their father did not argue with that assessment.
“I was very proud of them,” Patrick, Sr. said, “They did all the right things.”
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