Dora and Larry Steed were diving for scallops off the Gulf of Mexico when Hurricane Arthur winds drove their boat away.
Larry gave chase and managed to catch it. Dora wasn’t so lucky. She drifted all alone in the waters off Florida for 13 hours.
“I heard him yell my name and screaming my name. Then I noticed the boat turned, and head off away from me completely gone … and I'm left totally alone out there in the water,” she said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”
Steed, 49, of Homosassa, Florida, talked to “GMA” about how her July 3 excursion turned scary. She and her husband had been collecting scallops for a couple of hours when she surfaced and noticed that the boat had drifted away.
She struck out for the craft but it kept moving farther and farther away. Steed, a certified diver, believed she was being pushed by the tides.
She could see her husband, and he was yelling her name.
“I just yelled, ‘Over here.’ I just thought he was looking for me, but apparently he couldn't hear me,” she said.
When she heard the boat’s engine start she was excited because she thought that meant her husband was coming to get her.
“Then I noticed the boat turned, and head off away from me completely gone. Headed in another direction. Now I know he did not see me at all, and I'm left totally alone out there in the water, and there were no other boats. Dark skies, thundering, and nothing,” she said.
Her husband called 911, telling operators that he went back to where he thought they had both been and couldn’t find her.
In audio of the call, Larry Steed can be heard screaming his wife’s name and whistling.
Search teams responded but they were driven back by the rough seas.
“That was the worst part. Watching them leave,” Dora said. “Waves were just coming over my head splashing in your face, and the waves and tide coming against me.”
Dora stayed calm and began to figure out a game plan, all while being buffeted by the ferocious storms. She said she “searched everything” and spotted a PVC pipe in the water. She clung to it for hours.
Hours later, she chose to remove her face mask to catch and drink rain water so she wouldn’t become dehydrated.
“By now it's night time, deep in the night, midnight, really cold, and the water was much warmer than the air. So I made the decision to submerge, and pulled myself down and tucked down completely under the water except my head,” she said.
Around daybreak, searchers returned, focusing on nearby islands. She could see them, but they couldn’t see her, so she started to make her way there.
“About halfway across, it became shallow enough that it was just mucky and I sank in it. I couldn't walk in it anymore, so I didn't want to be stuck in the middle, so I walked to the island on my knees,” she said.
At first, the closest boater couldn’t see her and went off in another direction, but circled back.
“I'm determined this man is coming, even if I have to walk right up to the boat,” she said. “Finally, probably about 150 yards away, I stand up in the water, waving, and waved my fins, and he finally noticed me.”
“It felt great to get on the boat and go back to shore,” she said.
When they pulled up to the dock, she felt someone grab and hug her from behind. It was her husband.
“And he said, ‘Don't ever do that again’, and he was sobbing. I looked up at him, and said, ‘Do it to you? You left me out there,’" she said, laughing. “He was just very upset.”
Dora Steed said she never doubted her fate. She acknowledge thinking about what could happen in the water – sting rays, sharks, jellyfish, but said wasn't afraid of any of that.
“The only fearful thing that personally I think was the lightning,” she said. “In that storm, you could see the lightning, and I thought great, I'm going to be electrocuted. I had no control over that.”
Steed did suffer jellyfish stings. Despite everything, Steed said she always had a peaceful sense that she was being taken care of out there.
“I was never alone,” she said. “I never felt alone, even though I was totally alone in pitch black sitting out there in the middle of a storm with water flowing over my head. But I never felt alone.”
In a statement, she thanked everyone who participated in the search. She also thanked her husband for never giving up on the search for her.
- Recreational Watercraft