- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

RICHMOND (AP) It was the middle of the night when Jenny Chappell got word that Hurricane Iris had flipped a boat carrying members of the Richmond Dive Club. As many as 20 of her fellow club members were feared dead.
At 2 a.m. yesterday, Miss Chappell, the club's membership coordinator, started calling family members. "We're trying just to let them know and offering them our prayers," she said.
"We need the help of all of you to support these families during their time of need," the dive club said in a statement posted on its Web site, www.richmonddiveclub.com.
Operators of the 120-foot boat chartered by the dive club tried to shield the vessel and its passengers from Hurricane Iris and its 140-mph winds before the vessel capsized with 28 persons aboard. Eight survivors had been accounted for.
Peter Hughes Diving Inc. of Miami coordinated the trip for the dive club, which chartered two boats. Only one, the MV Wave Dancer, capsized.
"They had taken both boats up the river and had tied up for the evening to get out of the weather and the storm," said Lynn McNeal, co-owner of the Dive Shop in Richmond, who said she had been in touch with boat operators.
"I understand they were tied to some submerged type of dock. They had a very, very huge swell come through that snapped all the lines. When the ship came back down, I'm assuming it hit part of the dock," Mrs. McNeal said.
Mrs. McNeal's husband, Jim, who has been a diver for 40 years, said he has spent the night on board boats in some rough weather, but nothing like club members faced in Belize.
"These are large boats," Mr. McNeal said. "They have cabins two people to a cabin and a galley, a dining area and a lounging area. Normally, the boats would be pretty safe, as was the case with most of the boats up there. It was just this one boat that capsized."
The club members had started a weeklong trip to Belize on Saturday, members said. After Continental Airlines canceled a nonstop flight from Richmond to Houston, club President Glenn Prillaman booked a charter bus to Norfolk International Airport to arrive by 4 a.m.
"Everybody wants to go," Mr. Prillaman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch for an article published Sept. 30. "We've been planning this trip for a year. Unfortunately, we've been at the mercy of the airlines."
Mr. Prillaman is believed to be among the dive club members who died in the storm, according to the club's Web site.
Adam Stubbs, a Richmond radio personality and club member who was unable to make the trip, said yesterday the group probably lost 10 percent to 15 percent of its members.
"Twenty were on the boat that flipped and 10 were on the one that didn't," Mr. Stubbs said.
According to the club's Web site, the club had 108 members as of the end of June, but had a goal of expanding to 200 members by year's end.
The dive club planned to make a formal statement about the disaster at its meeting last night, member Michael Carr said.

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