Email to RDC Board of Directors following a week of funerals

All the captains and Peter Hughes are directly responsible for the murder of my friends. I have debriefed a number of victims and witnesses, and will be making the following statement to the national news.

The passengers should have been off-loaded for their saftey. The vessel was not docked properly. The rigging was bogus. Our people were not properly briefed, equipped, or prepared the conditions they were about to face in any way.

Captain Frank is as much a murderer as if he had lined my 17 friends up on the dock and shot them!!! It is up the Instructors to police our industry.

I will not stand down, fail, or give quarter to the enemy in my quest for justice. Everyone in the diving industry knows that converted crew boats are unstable. The Dancer will not pass a Coast Guard safety inspection, yet they put it in the direct path of a hurricane. It is the year 2001 not 1801. They knew where Iris was headed. Their decision not to unload was based on the cost, not the safety of the passengers.

Many of you will not like or agree with what I am about to do. I do not give a f_. It is now time to releases the hounds the justice. For everything there is a season. I have laid our friends to rest, and it is now time for the Truth to be told.

Friend of the Dead

On the morning of Tuesday, October 9, 2001 the AP Wire began reporting that a boat carrying scuba divers from Virginia had capsized in Belize, with probable loss of life. News services claimed that at least eight divers had died as a result of the accident involving the Peter Hughes liveaboard yacht, M/V Wave Dancer, a tragedy presumably caused by Hurricane Iris.

An emergency meeting of the RDC Board of Directors was called for 3:00 pm that afternoon. Ironically, most of the Club's officers had been lost in Belize. Friends of the victims filled in for them, in their absence.

The meeting was held in an office building in downtown Richmond. Jenny Chappell, RDC Membership Chairperson, reported that she had been notified of the capsizing by a representative of Peter Hughes at 2:00 am. She spent the rest of the night phoning the Emergency Contacts listed on the Club members' trip waivers to let them know there had been an accident. Family members were asked to attend the Dive Club meeting that night to receive more information on the status of their loved ones.

One of the chief concerns of the acting Board was for club members who were not from the Richmond area; Jimmy Topping from Plymouth, North Carolina and Ray Mars from Baltimore, Maryland. Calls were made to the Red Cross to ensure representatives were sent immediately to those family members' homes. Other topics discussed concerned the survivors and how to get them home, and the dead and how to get them home.

Everyone's cell phones were ringing off the hook. The story was big, especially for a normally quiet, southern town. Richmond, Virginia was experiencing its own personal World Trade Center.

Jenny Chappell gave attendees an overview of what had happened, as relayed by Peter Hughes' representatives. Those in attendance were asked not to give speculative information to the press, simply because the details of what happened were still sketchy; communication to and from Belize had been affected by the storm damage. Emergency Board members were, on the other hand, encouraged to talk about friendships and camaraderie. Finally, in confidentiality, the names of the dead were read. The list was too long; everyone knew all of the names on it.

A press conference was held that night at 6:00 pm before the regular monthly Dive Club meeting at 7:00 pm.

The media had descended upon the restaurant where the dive club meetings are held earlier than expected. La Siesta was inundated with satellite dishes, microphones, cameras, lights, reporters with pens and pencils, all wanting to speak to whomever would to talk; they were desperate for a sound byte, a personal memory to expand upon, a photograph of anyone's grief.

Tricia Goodman, RDC secretary, Mike Carr, RDC Education Committee Chair, and Steve Glenn, RDC legal counsel spearheaded the press conference.

They confirmed that there had been an accident and that lives had been lost. They confirmed that Glenn Prillaman, the Club President, had been killed. They disclosed that initial reports from Peter Hughes suggested that the Wave Dancer had been picked up by the tidal surge from Hurricane Iris and slammed onto a submerged pier, breaking her in half. They emphasized that the Club was still trying to obtain factual information on the events of that night.

The press was asked to leave the restaurant when the meeting was called to order which, to their credit, they did. But they didn’t leave the premises. They remained in the parking lot, waiting for another opportunity to record a willing victim’s pain.

The meeting began at 7:00 pm. Red Cross volunteers were introduced. They led family members away from the crowd to a private room filled with grief counselors. The counselors, in turn, informed them that their loved ones were, indeed, dead. There were gasps and sobs as Mike Carr read off the names of the victims, one by one, along with their status: dead, or missing and presumed dead. Each name was another stab wound in the Club's heart.

At the end of the meeting, Club members were asked not to speak with the press about any details that had been discussed.


The survivors, Mary Lou Hayden, Rick Patterson, Dave DeBarger, and the Aggressor passengers returned to Richmond Thursday night. October 11th.

A second Emergency Board meeting was held Friday. The survivors were there, and spent a long time describing their versions of what had happened down there. People were struck by their appearances, both physically and in demeanor. Dave DeBarger and Mary Lou Hayden seemed calm, practical and willing to talk to the family members in attendance Mary Lou's skin was bright red, burned by the diesel fuel that had spilled into the water of Big Creek lagoon when the boat rolled. Rick Patterson, more than anything, appeared to be in shock. His face was colorless, and he was withdrawn, seemingly unaware of the proceedings around him. Dave Mowrer, a passenger from the Aggressor, was angry. He wanted someone to listen to him. He needed to tell anyone who would listen to just how much had gone wrong during that storm. People flocked to him to hear his story.


All in all, there were ten funerals in one week, eight in Richmond. Christy McNeil's family decided to have her remains cremated in Belize City, her ashes to be scattered across Lighthouse Reef, the site of her last dive. Good-byes for her came later at the Club-sponsored memorial service in November.

Bart Stanley, a Wave Dancer crew member, attended Jim and Kimberly Garrison's funeral. Wave Dancer 2nd Captain Frank Wouters attended the memorial service for Buddy Webb. Peter Hughes attended the Club memorial in November. The prevailing attitude toward their appearances at these services was one of disbelief. They could not have felt welcome there.

Both Peter Hughes employees were immediately surrounded by dive club members after the services. RDC members were desperate for answers, and frustrated by the lack of information from Peter Hughes or the officials in Belize. In the case of Frank Wouters, the situation nearly became physical.

What the RDC didn't know was how quickly the Peter Hughes spin machine had mobilized. The wagons had circled, the ranks had been closed. Wave Dancer employees had already been instructed not to answer the inevitable questions from friends, family and the media. The truth wasn't going to be told at the funerals or by the press. And, if Peter Hughes Diving, Inc. had any say in the matter, it wasn't going to be told, ever.

Personal Account
Milly Armao

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