Mystery of three lost remains

Mystery of three lost in the Gulf remains after year

by Bob Mitchell, Toronto Star, Nov. 1995

copyright 1995 The Toronto Star


A year ago Saturday, four Mississauga friends set out for a day of scuba diving into a sunken wreck off the west coast of Florida.

But only one person returned and so began a mystery that has yet to be solved.

“In the back of your mind you hope for the best but what we really want is an answer to what happened to them,” said Bill Madott, whose son David, 25, vanished with friends Omar Shearer, 25, and Kent Munro, 25.

“But we are under no delusions that at the end of this mystery we’re going to find a bunch of guys alive.”

“Our quest is to find an answer and if within that answer we find somebody alive, then that will be a huge bonus for us.”

Madott believes the men could have floated into an area where an illicit activity, such as drug or gun smuggling, was underway and that were taken elsewhere and perhaps killed.

“That’s the only explanation we have,” Madott said.

“We have talked with many professionals and experienced people and if they had drowned, their bodies should have been found floating on top of the water.

“They had jettisoned their tanks but they had wet suits on and they were wearing diving jackets, which are better than life jackets.

“Shark experts have told us even if they were attacked, we would have found pieces of debris and pieces of body.”

The three men became separated from Jeff Wandich, 27, when his 12-metre fibreglass boat named the Sea Esta sank about 110 kilometres southwest of Marcos Island, Fla., last Nov. 4 about 4 p.m.  They were all licensed divers.

The men had known each other since their school days in Mississauga.

Wandich told authorities he became separated from his buddies and swam six kilometres to an offshore radio tower, which he clung to for 37 hours before being rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.  The boat was raised on Nov. 10 and found to be undamaged.

An exhaustive air and sea search by the coast guard, private fishing boats and aircraft failed to turn up a trace of the men - although several items from the boat, including two empty tanks, a camera bag, a piece of rope and a clothing bag were found about 30 kilometres southwest out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Madott said the families have checked every rumour and hired private investigators.  But not one solid clue has been uncovered.

Madott helped co-author Vanished in the Gulf with Toronto Sun Reporter Joe Warmington in the hope of raising awareness - particularly in the United States, where the book debuted last week in Florida.

Morgues have been visited in various Central American countries.

“Eight air tanks were on the boat and only five have ever been found,” Madott said.

“Of course we want to keep hoping they will be found alive.  But the most difficult thing is not knowing what happened...When you look at the facts, what you’re left with is a mystery.”

The families have announced the reward for information leading to the safe return of their loved ones has been raised from $75,000 to $300,000.  As well, they will now pay $15,000 for the return of each body.

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