WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

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Sal.Delello
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WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Sal.Delello » Sat May 28, 2011 4:24 pm

Could have died adrift on the open ocean at Diver's Nightmare - May 15, 2011

Several months before our planned trip on May 14, 2011, I had set up a SCUBA diving schedule with an experienced local PADI Instructor that I personally knew and dove with on previous trips to Tobago. Unfortunately he became ill, and after provisioning the boat on Saturday, May 14, 2011, I got the phone number of Johnny of SAS as someone who owned a dive shop and might be able to help us out at the last minute.

Unfortunately, I did not check him out in advance, either on this web site, or with anyone else I know in Tobago. That was our first big mistake.

As you may have heard, on Sunday, May 15, 2011, Johnny Procope and three divers were lost on Divers Dream.

I was one of the 3 divers with Johnny. I am a PADI Dive Master, Ola is a PADI Instructor and Corey is a PADI Rescue Diver. We are all very experienced divers.

We were scheduled to meet Johnny at Store Bay at 9 AM. He called and pushed back the start time to 9:30 AM. He called again and pushed back the start time to 10 AM. By about 10:15 AM we called him because our dinghy was at the beach by Bago's Bar. He was at the Store Bay Park. We moved the dinghy to pick him up and the tanks and weights.

He was aware that we wanted to dive Diver's Dream, Diver's Thirst and Cove Ledge from our cat. We were diving from our sailboat which Johnny knew before we started. Our boat captain was licensed, a resident of Tobago for 18 years and well experienced, but he did not know the dive site, all of which Johnny also knew before we started out.

Once on board we confirmed that he could locate the dive sites on our charts or by the boat's GPS. Johnny said he had a GPS with the co-ordinates but lent it to somebody. We asked him if he could call for the co-ordinates. He made some calls and said he had to return to the beach to borrow a GPS. When he returned he had a piece of paper with co-ordinates on it. His delaying and disorganization meant a 3 hour delay in starting from the 9 AM start time requested.

Johnny appeared to know what he was doing. We signed the typical forms. He spoke a good dive briefing. He is friendly and very personable. He is a natural salesman at heart and very smooth.

We started out with a heading Johnny provided. The captain entered the co-ordinates but they were wrong as they placed us in the center of Tobago. Johnny assured us he could eyeball the drop position for the site.

This was our second big mistake. We did not know at the time that Diver's Dream should only be dove in the mornings because of typical worsening conditions in the afternoon, and the difficulty of a search in afternoon if anything goes wrong. But this is why we hired a local dive shop for the trip, so we could be warned about local conditions that should be taken into account.

The dive did not start until 1:47 PM (Dive computer log). At that time we were several miles off shore with about 3 foot rollers, but otherwise relatively calm water. It was foggy and overcast. The sun was partially peeking but conditions were deteriorating since earlier that morning.

Johnny's attempt to eyeball the drop point was wrong. We were actually on Drew Bank, not Diver's Dream. The dive was uneventful and lasted 56:20 minutes. Max depth 51 average depth 41, we were on the flat the entire time.

Aside from the fact Johnny could not find the dive site, the dive was uneventful, but upon surfacing the boat could not be seen. We looked for the boat and Ola spotted it in the distance, further downstream. It was hard to estimate but I would say it was about 3/4 miles away, periodically moving in a search pattern.

Our Third Mistake was not checking the size of Johnny's SMB. We hired Johnny to give us expert local advice about diving conditions and did not check his equipment. After the fact we discovered that Johnny's SMB, the size of a soft ball and partially deflated, sunk after 15 minutes. People were amazed that even Johnny would have done that site without a proper SMB.

Once the SMB went down 15 minutes after the start, the captain continued to follow the same path for 15 minutes then called for the Coast Guard giving the GPS coordinates of both the last point he saw our SMB and his present location. By that time, conditions worsened. 6 foot rollers meant that we could only see the boat when we were on top of the wave. It also meant that even with our SMB sausages extended, our sausages could not be seen unless we were on top of the wave at the exact time someone was looking.

The surface current seemed to be moving faster than the current below. We were taking pictures during the dive requiring Johnny to stop periodically to wait for us. I believe we were actually behind the boat's projected path for us because of the difference between the speed of the drift at the bottom and at the surface.

The 3 of us each had personal SMBs and whistles. Johnny did not have a whistle, Corey gave him an extra that she had. I also had an air horn and mirror, but it was overcast with no sun, making the mirror useless. We connected to each other as a group to wave our SMBS and make concerted whistles to the boat. I also sounded the air horn repeatedly as part of the signaling effort. The boat did not respond to concerted efforts to signal.

By about 3:15 we spotted the boat in the distance and it appeared closer. Johnny said that maybe something happened to the captain so he would swim to the boat about 1/2 mile away. We 3 stayed together as a group. We kept in whistle contact. Johnny made it about 2/3 of the way and the boat turned. Within about 15 more minutes or so we lost both the boat and Johnny.

At that point, I realized that we only had 3 hours of light left and the current would move us further away from the island. I said we need to save ourselves. Its only three miles, lets swim toward the mountain. (We could see the tip of the mountain over the waves) We agreed to start swimming for the non-moving island and not further out to sea toward the moving boat.

We continued as a chain, holding the other's octopus to remain together. We took a compass heading of 70 degrees, we dropped weights, reversed the BCDs and laid on top to make swimming easier. We all had snorkels so we could continue to swim as waves broke over us. We all wore 2mm shorties.

A Coast Guard helicopter passed over us twice and did not spot us. We also saw Hard Play (fishing boat with tuna tower) but it did not see us. Each time we stopped swimming and tried to signal as a group with SMBs and whistles. The sun was completely blocked by this time so the mirror was useless. We only had pocket lights with us (AAx4) and mine was not working because I did not change the batteries.

Over the coarse of the 3 hours on the surface it appeared that we were making progress. We had crossed over a particularly rough patch and Ola (also a licensed yacht captain) determined that the current had changed and appeared to be moving toward the island of Tobago and not out toward Granada or Venezuela. (We mentioned this to the coast guard later so that people might know to try to get to the inside current as soon as possible which might allow them to wash up in Plymouth or somewhere further North and not go out to sea)

It was getting dark and the lights were on buildings we could see from the water.

Around 6 PM R and Sea found us, Johnny was on board. He yelled, "Yeah" and we yelled "Yeah". They picked him up about 2 minutes earlier. Apparently, when the sail boat turned, Johnny decided to swim to shore and not return to us in the group. We were deliriously happy to not be dead.

Within minutes of being picked up it started raining and was dark.

We suffered some sunburn, jellyfish stings, cramps but no real injuries, but we never panicked. It was the combination of cool headedness, experience and Grace that saved us. We never entertained for a second that we would not reach the shore, no matter how long it took.

What if our group were open water, once a year divers? There would have been 3 dead divers.

Sometimes people say things that later you connect but do not connect at the time. Johnny said he likes to climb mountains, and is a thrill seeker. These are not the characteristics of a dive leader.

We met the coast guard the next day without Johnny because he shut his phone off. We called his partner or friend "Davey" who drove to Johnny's house to get him to the Coast Guard. Eventually Johnny got there. The Coast Guard asked him if he would have done anything different. He said he should have had a proper SMB. Then he said, I would have taken Ola's fins because the power bands on Johnny and Ola's identical fins were broken and Ola's were not. (He actually said this to the Coast Guard)

Johnny could not produce his PADI instructor card or ID number, had no proof of insurance, and claimed he was a member of the dive association. Johnny signed the Coast Guard report stating he had a business, was a PADI licensed Instructor and was a member of the Association.

I personally spoke with Alvin Douglas (President of ATDO) that night after we had been saved, who said Johnny was thrown out of the Association of Tobago Dive Operators. I also believe his PADI license may be under investigation or has been suspended. Alvin also saw the SMB Johnny used - and I told Alvin to put it in the "Tobago Diver's Museum" as what to never use as an SMB.

Ola and I intend to file an incident report with PADI as we are certain Johnny will not.

I have 68 dives in Tobago (plus others before this computer) and we love Tobago and the diving there.

Johnny is a very friendly and likable guy and it is easy to see how his friends may innocently refer him because they like Johnny, without really knowing about him professionally.

In my opinion, Johnny is a danger to the diving public and a blight on diving in Tobago. Since this web site is an important source of information, I feel it is important to provide accurate information to protect the public and Tobago Tourism.

Sal Delello
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Re: WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Hugh S » Sun May 29, 2011 3:39 pm

Thanks for the heads-up! Scary but exciting tale. Glad you are all safe and sound.

Who would be your top picks as very safe dive operators in Tobago?

Thanks, Hugh 8)

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Re: WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Sal.Delello » Sun May 29, 2011 3:52 pm

I do not disagree with the ratings on My Tobago.

In the South I think R and Sea, Xtra Divers, and Frontier are all excellent, listed not in any particular order.

In the North, I always dive with Aquamarine Dive, however, that is not to disparage anyone else. I just find the location at BWI to be superior.
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Re: WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Hugh S » Sun May 29, 2011 4:24 pm

Sal,

Thanks for that info.

Hugh 8)

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Diving in Tobago

Post by AnnaStovall » Thu Jun 02, 2011 4:13 pm

I came to Tobago as a virgin diver. The extent of my underwater forays were grossly limited to the deep-end of my childhood pool, but with extra time on my hands on an island, what better thing to do than explore the ocean!
Recommended by a friend of mine who had spent many years working with him, Johnny of SAS, introduced me to diving. He gave me a great personal experience. Starting slowly in the pool, I got my "sealegs" so to speak, and my first open water was at Arnos Vale. I was hooked! I would recommend Arnos Vale for the inexpierienced diver, it was easy going, and, when conditions are right, it is stunning. I continued diving with Johnny and dove Bloody Bay, Speyside (more than a few times!), Kariwak, The Wreck, Mt.Irvine Wall, and Back Bay to mention a few. I had friends come into Tobago, and he was very accomodating and went above and beyond showing us Tobago. It wasn't just the diving he was so excited about, he took us to several rainfalls and through the preserve. They were very impressed and are returing later in the year.
Johnny was great about teaching me the important safety aspects of diving, and gave me great knowledge when it comes to equipment operation and care.
Davvy was our boatsman for several dives and did a great job too.
I can't wait to return to the island and will hit Johnny up first for diving!

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Re: WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Sal.Delello » Fri Jun 03, 2011 1:50 pm

@Anna
Johnny is young at heart, very friendly, good looking, has a million dollar smile and is a very personable guy. He is a natural salesman and is very good at listening and giving back what he thinks you want to hear.

All the dives you listed except what some people call Back Bay in Speyside (unless you mean Back Bay itself which is another bay dive) are bay dives and would be appropriate for an inexperienced diver like yourself. They are beautiful and easy, with very little risk to any certified and cautious diver. I question however the choice of bringing you either the Maverick (Mt Irving) or the Roundtable (Speyside).

Since you did not specify what wreck you dove I assume it was Maverick because you list Mt Irving. Since it is deeper than 60 feet, and even though penetration is not difficult because this wreck was prepared for diver safety, as a newly certified open water diver, you should not have been taken on this dive. With only the handful of dives listed, even a great wreck like Maverick could be very dangerous for someone inexperienced and not properly trained.

It is things like that decision by Johnny, to "risk it" and bring you on the wreck, even though nothing happened, that is the concern.

We have no disagreement that John is very "nice" to his customers. As an individual he is charming and fun. Also, because he has a natural rapport, he probably made you feel very comfortable about learning a new experience. Also, I do not mean to imply that he is not a great diver. Johnny is very experienced and there is no question that his skills are excellent.

My concern is a lack of prudence, caution and his failure to consider safety as the primary concern. Since he is the owner of SAS, the decision about safety is left solely to him. Maybe if he was working for another dive shop under the supervision of cautious owners, then diving or learning from him would be fine.

But how would you feel, if someone got hurt or killed with Johnny, because of what you wrote about your experience?

Friendship and pleasant personality aside, as the person that one relies upon to be advised of the risks and dangers when diving in Tobago, and there are many in the advanced dives that you did not do that can be dangerous, unless Johnny closes his shop and works under supervision, he should not be the first choice when there are so many other great dives shops in Tobago.
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Re: WARNING: Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) John Procope

Post by Steve Wooler » Thu Jun 16, 2011 1:47 pm

As many readers will have noticed (this is not a dig at those who have emailed me), I have refrained from comment on this matter. Or, perhaps I should qualify that and say I have refrained from public comment. In fact the fall-out from this near-tragic incident has involved more than 20 hours of my time. The most frustrating part is that this is not something I should be involved with. Sadly, I have little confidence that the Tobago authorities or dive industry give a damn.

The matter is far from resolved and it will be best to reserve full comment until PADI have completed their investigation. However, there are some salient facts that visiting divers - and hospitality owners who recommend local dive operators to guests - should be aware of immediately.

I offer the following statement from PADI:
As of 15 June 2011.

John Procope #159085 is not authorized to teach PADI Courses. You may access that information in the following link by entering his PADI Member Number 159085: PADI Pro Check

Scuba Adventure Safari S-19850 has not been a PADI Member since December 31, 2010. They are not authorized to teach PADI Courses nor represent themselves as a member of PADI.
The Association of Tobago Dive Operators (ATDO) also confirmed to me that Scuba Adventure Safari was expelled from the association around a year ago.

The Scuba Adventure Safari (SAS) website claims that SAS are “Tobago’s most professional dive centre” and their About Us and Licences/Affiliations pages display the logos of both ATDO and PADI. John Procope’s Facebook page also claimed similar affiliations until he made his profile private within the past day or two.

On 4th June I received a long statement from Procope detailing his side of the story. Unsurprisingly, he disputes many of the comments/allegations made in the original report. He does, however, admit to mistakes and bad judgment. As a non-diver, I am unqualified to comment on the technical aspects of his report and consequently my reply suggested that he file his response here. He has failed to do so.

Procope opened a forum account following the start of this topic. He naturally has a right of reply, so I approved the account immediately. A few days later, another account was registered, followed by a post singing SAS/John Procope's praises. Investigations revealed these to be from the same computer used for Procope's registration. I wrote to the author of the post, expressing my concern and asking for clarification of the association with SAS/Procope. In my opinion, any failure to declare an association or relationship with the subject of a report is, at the very least, misleading and, at worst, could be seen as tantamount to a deliberate attempt to manipulate public opinion. The author of the post replied stating that “John has borrowed my laptop/Internet connection”. She admitted to being a ‘friend’ of John Procope, but denied any personal relationship, or that her post was anything but objective. Perhaps so, but the fact that she spent the evening of the dive incident “looking after” the three unfortunate divers, effectively as John Procope’s representative, suggests to me that it would be only right and proper to declare that association in any forum post related to Procope/SAS. Several contacts have now confirmed that this girl is widely perceived as being his most favoured current girlfriend.
Steve Wooler
myTobago.info - the definitive Visitor Guide to Tobago

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