Early on I was asked the following question by a reader: “do I believe in miracles and are we expecting a miracle to happen”? My response: “I do not have enough faith to be an atheist in times such as these. Perhaps a better question would be: what kind of miracles are we expecting?”
The miracle she referred to was whether we believed we would find Natalee Holloway based on the relative odds and unknowns. The question I returned was perhaps more poignant. How would our lives be changed in the process of finding her in light of the adversity and unknowns? I maintain my position that it is a much larger miracle to have lives and hearts changed than to overcome odds and solve unknowns.
Since the beginning of this search I have been witness to many miracles. I’ve watched loving wives gracefully supporting their husbands while waiting home alone with children for over a month. I’ve seen sons and daughters patiently and cheerfully waiting for their daddies to come home to them. I’ve seen hearts moved and changed to give generously out of love and conviction. I’ve witnessed trust build, bonds form, friendships established, lies replaced with truth, mistakes forgiven, and perhaps the greatest of all and hardest to fathom... genuine loving sacrifice.
While searching offshore Aruba from the shallows to the abyss, we have truly ventured into a new search area. We’ve been exploring the very essence of our human being discovering purpose, hope, strength, and love along the way.
Fri 25-Jan 0950 hrs
The Persistence leaves the dock this morning at 0730 hrs. Working during mainly daylight hours has been a welcome change for the crew and good for moral. The seas and winds have not been as severe lately. The last two days saw excellent progress.
3D Perspective view of bathymetry showing water depth in feet. Black contour interval is 100ft
By John Silvetti-
The original search area surveyed by the R/V Persistence was selected based on numerous pieces of information provided by Dave Holloway, Tim Miller, investigations, interrogations, depositions and other information from local authorities. After compiling and reviewing the information, the search area was selected by Louis Schaefer and John Silvetti. Upon completion of the sonar runs in this area, 65 ROV dives were performed by Offshore Innovative Solutions (OIS) on targets identified by sonar. Divers from the Aruban Police Diving Division and Underwater Expeditions made several dives and retrieved samples which were delivered for analysis. Several targets in this first survey grid yet remain to be investigated by ROV which will occur in approximately one week when ROV dive operations recommence.
Selection of the next area, the “Extended Search Area”, was based on one single piece of information, a reported confession by one of the three suspects. This confession, as relayed to the survey team, has some credence. It involves the same type of disposal scenario, but better defines the search area. This information in combination with the weather patterns observed by the survey team since our arrival on December 15th left only one boundary to define. The team needed to observe the island from offshore on a small vessel at night to determine this boundary. Sounds easy….huh?
After 2 unsuccessful attempts using a local vessel due to fuel and mechanical problems, the decision was made to utilize the R/V Persistence’s Rescue Boat, the “Avon”. The Avon is a 16’ center console inflatable vessel powered by a 70 hp Tohatsu engine. Prior to dark, the Avon was launched from the Persistence and piloted to the Holiday Inn Pier by Captain Jim Graves. Later that evening, John Silvetti boarded the vessel with Capt. Graves, transited to the start point, and commenced an offshore run documenting the time and vessel position with a WAAS enabled hand-held GPS system. At one mile out, radio communications were confirmed with the Persistence. At six miles out, radio communications were again confirmed along with spot light identification as the Avon crossed astern of the Persistence. It was somewhere shortly after this point that Murphy boarded the Avon!
The weather was very similar to the recorded weather of late May, 2005. The seas were running 4-6’ with swells of 6-8’. It was rough for an Avon! Upon reaching the final destination point while documenting the final position, the engine sputtered and stalled. It never started again! Approximately 30 minutes of effort to restart the engine was fruitless. I believe that is when we noticed that we were taking on water! HELLO HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
As we watched Aruba disappear over the horizon, contemplating our broken engine, a vessel taking on water and the fact that we are about to enact the emergency contingencies of our procedures, Capt. Graves stated, “ I am sure glad that it is so dark!” I took the bait. Why? Because I believe we would be scared to death if we could see how big these waves are! Persistence…Persistence….this is Avon on channel 16 ..over! Silence. Persistence…Persistence….this is Avon on channel 16 ..over! Five minutes of silence. Back up frequency. Persistence…Persistence….this is Avon on channel 09 ..over! Five minutes of silence. VHF comms failure. Ya gotta love Murphy.
Thanks to the support of Coast Guard Curacao, Aruban Port Authority and some unbelievable cell phone coverage, the Persistence plucked us out of the water approximately 16 miles offshore Aruba. We had acquired a tremendous amount of information to determine the last boundary and learned a few lessons:
1) Never use your lower back to absorb the shock of pounding seas when you are fat and out of shape.
2) Never get fat and out of shape.
3) No matter how complete and thorough your safety procedures are, never count Murphy out!