Dive Team Rescue

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
Patrol Operations Bureau
-Dive Team

Kiangkham Viravong (Boat Captain)
DOB: 03/04/1970
Address: 7938 Bogie Avenue N., St. Petersburg

Robert Littke (Distressed Diver)
DOB: 02/15/1968
Address: 8267 Yardley Avenue N., St. Petersburg

James Sailors
DOB: 08/24/1985
Address: 3501 Players Drive, New Port Richey

Dive Team members participating in the Lionfish Safari roundup rescued two divers in distress separated from their boat in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The incident occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 30 miles west of Madeira Beach.

The incident occurred at about 9:15 a.m. on September 10, 2016.

According to deputies, Dive Team members from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office were participating in the Lionfish Safari roundup at about 9:15 a.m. on September 10, 2016, when they arrived to their dive site located approximately 30 miles west of Madeira Beach.

Deputies say the seas were rough and there were no other dive vessels in the immediate area when they heard someone yelling for help. Deputies searched the area and located a diver, 48-year-old Robert Littke, floating on the surface of the water waving his arms in distress. Deputies pulled Littke safely into their boat.

Littke informed deputies he was having equipment trouble and he did not know where his boat was. Deputies searched the area and located the boat, a 22 foot Pro Sports catamaran, almost a mile from their location.

Deputies say they transported Littke back to the boat and spoke with the boat’s captain, 46-year-old Kiangkham Viravong. Viravong said that he had two divers in the water that were attached to a marker buoy he was following. Viravong had no idea that the divers were no longer attached to the marker buoy that was drifting with the current.

Deputies searched and located the second diver, 31-year-old James Sailors, floating in the water waving his arms in distress, almost a mile from the catamaran. Deputies rescued Sailors and safely returned him to the catamaran.

Deputies say that Viravong’s catamaran became disabled during the search for the missing divers but deputies were able to get the boat re-started so Viravong and his divers could return to shore.      

Dive Team members still had time to participate in the Lionfish Safari roundup using the dive as a training opportunity for members working towards their Advanced and Master Diver certifications. They were able to harvested 70 invasive lionfish.  

Marine Biologists agree that this invasive species poses a serious threat to the native fish populations of our natural and artificial reefs. Recent studies have shown that the removal of as many of these fish as possible is our only control method at this time. 

Lionfish harvested during the Lionfish Safari roundup.    

Posted by Sunday, September 11, 2016 5:17:00 PM Categories: Marine Unit and Flight Unit

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