IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Med student's life cut short in paradise

U.S. divers experience real life "Open Water" off the coast of Belize.
/ Source: TODAY

The Caribbean coast of Belize is a diver's paradise.

It certainly was for Abby Brinkman — a medical student from Indiana who was volunteering at a clinic deep in the jungles of Belize when tragedy struck.

"All I can say is there were a series of mishaps, none of which should have happened," said Abby's father, Roger Brinkman.

Her parents say Abby was an experienced diver who took a scuba trip last month with several other Americans and a local tour operator called Advanced Diving.

The boat left the dock and dropped off a group of snorklers at the South Silk Caye, then moved on with Abby and three other divers into open water.

That's when the engine broke down, and everyone onboard realized the boat had no working radio and no flares.

John Bain was on the boat and saw the anchor snap completely off.

"At that point," said Bain, "I looked up and noticed that we drifted. We were continuing to drift."

With the shoreline disappearing, John, Abby and the other two divers decided to put on their scuba gear and swim for it.

But the waves were too rough, and the current separated all of the divers.

Bain ended up drifing 50 miles from shore. During three days and two nights of floating in the water, he choked on saltwater and was stung by a jellyfish.

"It was right about that time," said Bain, "the sunset of the third night, when I was having some real thoughts about will I make it through this third night?"

Even worse, the scuba vest, intended to keep him afloat, had leaks in it. It was not the first time the tour operator had been cited for passing out faulty equipment.

Belize authorities have since shut down Advanced Diving and imposed a lifelong ban on its owner, who couldn't be reached for comment.

But that has come too late to save Abby.

Her body was recovered on the same day that John and the other two divers were rescued.

"She was as close to perfection as any daughter could ever be."

The Brinkmans have started a memorial in Abby's memory, to provide funding for the medical clinic in Belize, to help young women start medical careers of their own, and to remind divers of the dangers when you're on the water and far from home.