A man who jumped into the raging seas off Ċirkewwa on Tuesday to help save a group of divers in distress has recounted the race against time before he provided first aid to the only victim of the incident.

Marcus Kitching-Howe said he tried to be as calm and collected as possible as he realised the looming danger when the winds suddenly picked up, whipping the sea into a frenzy.

“I was doing the things I’ve been trained to do and I made sure to not let my emotions take over,” said Kitching-Howe, a 31-year-old PADI course director and emergency first-response trainer.

Rescuers had to intervene to save 18 divers from the sea off the popular diving spot, though a 45-year-old Dutch diver who lived in Spain failed to make it. Tuesday’s tragedy could have been worse were it not for the bravery of Kitching-Howe who had just emerged from a dive when the alarm was raised.

With years of diving experience in the UK, the Caribbean, and Malta, Kitching-Howe, the owner of ABC Diving in St Paul’s Bay, was diving with a client at the Rożi dive site.

“There were no concerns to carry out a dive in the morning, as the wind was forecast to increase that afternoon,” he said.

That is when the wind ranged from force six up to force nine (gale force) in exposed areas, prompting the Meteorological Office to issue a yellow weather warning at 1pm.

An AFM boat during the rescue. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAn AFM boat during the rescue. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Kitching-Howe said he and his client carried out a quick dive in the area and were out of the water by 12.10pm.

“I remember seeing a lot of different diving school cars in the car parking area. There were clients of around three or four diving schools present in the water,” he said.

When the duo exited the water and were getting ready to leave, Kitching-Howe realised the waves were getting bigger and the wind stronger. He looked out into the sea and realised there were still quite a few divers in the water.

That is when he grabbed a 12-metre rope line, tied a part of it to the handrail, and took the other end into the water for the divers to grab hold of.

“The divers could grab the line and pull themselves out of the water towards the exit,” he said. But the waves kept picking up making it harder for the divers to simply swim to the shoreline. 

“I was in the water for another half hour, and 10 divers were able to exit the water by using the line. There were other people on the shoreline helping these divers get up on the steps and safely on land.”

I noticed the diver was on his back, unresponsive, not breathing

The situation got worse as the wind got even stronger, so Kitching-Howe signalled to the remaining divers to swim out away from the rocks.

“By that time I was informed that AFM was on its way, and I wanted the other divers to stay away from the rocks and wait out at sea to be rescued,” he told Times of Malta.

While the remaining divers heeded the instruction, Kitching-Howe noticed two divers still close to the rocks.

“One diver was holding another in his arms. This diver was not kicking his legs, still had the regulator in his mouth, and was being kept afloat by the other diver, who was calling out for help and waving out to us.”

Realising the diver was struggling, Kitching-Howe put his fins and mask back on and entered the choppy waters once again. When he reached them, one diver was wearing just a wet suit, and he had been pulled in by the waves while trying to assist others out of the water from another exit.

With years of diving experience and training, Marcus Kitching-Howe played an important role in the rescue.With years of diving experience and training, Marcus Kitching-Howe played an important role in the rescue.

“I noticed the diver that was being kept afloat on his back was unresponsive and not breathing. At this point, I initiated rescue breaths on the diver,” said Kitching-Howe, who carries out such first-aid techniques in his training courses.

The unresponsive diver had only one fin on, so Kitching-Howe removed it off him to give it to the other diver and helped tow them away from the rocks.

It was too late. The Dutchman had died.

By the time they swam away from the rocks, an AFM boat was coming towards them. He made sure both divers were on the boat. He noticed there were another 10 divers on the boat already.

He then swam out to another group of divers who were waiting to be rescued.

“This group was in a good mental and physical state. They were floating and waiting to be rescued and I stayed next to them to make sure they were OK.”

Shortly after, another tow boat arrived and collected the divers to shore.

Asked how he felt during this challenging moment, the diver said he remained “calm and collected” throughout the rescue.

Satisfied with helping cushioning the extent of the tragedy, Kitching-Howe is concerned about the ripple impact the accident could have on the local diving community.

“I feel the consequences of some people’s decisions that day will harm the diving industry as a whole,” he said, adding that he was aware it could put off people from ever diving.

“On a positive note, there were many divers who made correct decisions that day and got out of the water before the waves increased.

 “There are so many diving centres that do things correctly and safely, and this accident cannot undo the good work they do.”

Divers who spoke to Times of Malta expressed frustration that the dive leaders went ahead with their plans to descend on the Rożi in those conditions.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.