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Coast Guard says 4 divers who went missing off S.C. coast were found alive

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy brought four divers back to their families after a search aircraft spotted an SOS strobe.
U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy brought four divers back to their families after a search aircraft spotted an SOS strobe.

Updated August 14, 2023 at 4:24 PM ET

Four divers who hadn't been seen since they plunged into the Atlantic Ocean more than 60 miles east of Myrtle Beach, S.C., over the weekend were rescued in the early hours of Monday, the Coast Guard said.

Some 12 hours after diving off a pleasure boat named Big Bill's, the divers wound up being brought aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer. It was just one of a number of sea and air assets that were enlisted to bring the four to safety.

"There were no reported injuries when we found them," Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally told NPR. The divers were reunited with their relieved friends and family around dawn Monday, he said.

The group will have quite a story to tell: Air and boat crews launched a search for the divers after being alerted that they hadn't resurfaced after starting their dive around noon Sunday.

The rescued divers are Ben Wiggins, 64; Luke Lodge, 26; Daniel Williams, 46; and Evan Williams, 16, according to the Coast Guard.

A search plane spotted an SOS strobe

Friends and loved ones greeted four divers at the Coast Guard station in Oak Island, N.C., after the group was rescued.
/ U.S. Coast Guard
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U.S. Coast Guard
Friends and loved ones greeted four divers at the Coast Guard station in Oak Island, N.C., after the group was rescued.

A helicopter and two massive HC-130 aircraft were deployed to help, along with two Coast Guard cutters and a 47-foot boat — all scouring the ocean to look for signs of the divers.

Given prevailing water currents and drift patterns, searchers calculated that they should focus their efforts off the North Carolina coast. The search-and-rescue attempt went late into the night, involving Coast Guard crews from South Carolina and North Carolina, along with a patrol boat based in Sandy Hook, N.J.

Finally, they saw a call for help: "One of the Coast Guard C-130s from Air Station Elizabeth City was doing a search pattern when they spotted an SOS strobe light," Lally said.

After using the aircraft's cameras to spot the divers, the aircrew launched a life raft to them on the water's surface. Then they guided a U.S. Navy warship that was in the area, the USS Porter, so it could give the divers refuge as Coast Guard rescuers headed to the scene, roughly 46 miles southeast of Cape Fear River, N.C.

"Unlike being on a road, where you can be on a roadway and cars are passing on a fairly regular basis, in the maritime domain it's not as easy," Lally said, citing the ocean's vast expanses as a reason for numerous partnerships in times of emergency.

It's not yet known how the divers fell into danger

Four divers were reunited with their relieved families and friends early Monday — one day after they went missing in the Atlantic Ocean.
/ U.S. Coast Guard
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U.S. Coast Guard
Four divers were reunited with their relieved families and friends early Monday — one day after they went missing in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Coast Guard doesn't yet know what led to the divers being in distress and drifting far from their boat. And as of yet, little is known about how they all managed to stay afloat and survive their ordeal.

"That's being looked into," to understand more about what took place, Lally said. "The big thing is the fact that we were able to bring them back home safely and reunite them with their friends and family."

At 6:10 a.m., the divers arrived at the Coast Guard station in Oak Island, N.C., just south of Wilmington. The military branch shared images of emotional reunions early Monday, as the divers disembarked at the docks where their friends and loved ones were anxiously waiting for their return.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.