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Police, FBI and Navy Scuba divers documented 3,167 dives to recover 230 bodies and 95% of the airplane from the worst air disaster in U.S. history. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said search and recovery efforts when TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island would have been impossible without these divers.

A Although it's been several years since that disaster brought worldwide attention to police scuba teams, their popularity hasn't waned. An air disaster of this magnitude is highly unlikely in the waters off Roatan, however, it's reassuring to know that some of our Police are prepared if something does happen.

A Nine police officers from the Policia Nacional Preventiva recently completed an intensive five day dive NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) scuba training course. They received their certification documents in a ceremony at Palmetto Bay Plantation on June 14.

Turning scuba diving into a weapon against crime is common in coastal cities across the United States and other nations, but it is a new concept in Honduras. Mostly everyone agrees - except the criminals - that a police dive team is a necessity on an island. Being armed with scuba training will help police in rescue and/or recovery of drowned persons, homicide victims, evidence, boats and vehicles.

Steven Helm, a certified advanced safety diver and instructor, taught the two back-to-back classes at Palmetto. Although he had hurdles of "red tape" to jump in order to gain approvals from police officials on the mainland, the first class began smoothly on June 2.

But Helm, a NAUI instructor for 17 years, is accustomed to jumping hurdles. About two and a half years ago, he certified 12 national police officers on Roatan in the first police scuba course ever held in Honduras. It took a lot of pioneering and lobbying then also to gain approval. The resorts all chipped in with loaned equipment and everyone passed with flying colors.

"I've enjoyed diving for 34 years and wanted to share the beauty of the water with others," Helm explains. "Teaching these men has been a great experience for me. It takes away a lot of the misconceptions about the police."
"It's good to know that in the unlikely event that an airplane goes off the runway or there is a boat accident, the police will be prepared with divers," says Helm. "They can also participate in search and rescue missions."

Helm said the police can also play a key role in protecting our valuable reef system, especially if they see someone standing on coral or damaging the active ecosystem.
According to Helm, the students had a refreshing appreciation for the water after the first few dives. They were already good swimmers and extremely excited about diving.

Following their first open water dive, several remarked about the warmth, clarity and beauty of the water. A couple of them said they were surprised to hear themselves breathing under the water.
"This is something I never thought I would do," says Mauro Flores, police inspector, before gearing up for the afternoon session. "I was a little frightened at first, but then I began liking it."

After two years in Roatan, Hector Sales now understands why tourists from all over the world come here to dive our reefs and see the fish. He notes that he will continue with scuba now that he knows what it is like.

For Benjamin Ordoñez, the scuba course has added new confidence. He said he has had to board a boat before, but now he will be more willing to jump into the water and chase someone.

Although Helm speaks only English and the officers speak Spanish, language wasn't a barrier to their learning. Helm purchased NAUI Spanish books and restaurant manager Cecelia Mendez, who is also an instructor, translated all the lessons. They all had homework every night.
Most mornings were spent on book work in the restaurant area. After lunch, they donned their gear and hit the water. After becoming comfortable in the resort pool, then the beach, they graduated to boat dives.

It took cooperation from numerous people to make the course a reality. Businesses including Coco View, Bay Islands Beach Resort, Inn of the Last Resort, Ocean Divers, Fantasy Island and Anthony's Key Resort loaned equipment and filled tanks. Palmetto donated the facilities, daily lunch and beverages, while Helm provided the books, a boat, and his time.

Written by Marcia Quinn-Strehlow
photos by Thomas Tomczyk



local news

French Harbour clinic gets a chance for a new life
by Jaime Johnston

The French Harbour Health Clinic (FHHC) is set to receive a community lifeline over the coming months. Since its inception in 1991, the public clinic has been providing health care to families in French Harbour and its surrounding areas. Over the years, the physical condition has steadily deteriorated into its present rundown state. Coxen Hole Midwife Bernadette Ebanks who operates a weekly maternity ward out of the FHHC, decided to outline the clinic's needs through a presentation at the Roatan Ladies Luncheon. Headed by Shelley Lynch and Susan Jensen, a group of volunteers formed with the goal of restoring the clinic and providing them with the means necessary to maintain a suitable working environment. "Our plan was to first survey the clinic's needs, most of which were very obvious and immediate," Lynch explained.
After a building audit, the primary goals of the project were determined to be: roof replacement, installation of toilets and a new septic tank, electricity rewiring, air conditioning refurbishing, and the replacement of windows, doors, light fixtures, and ceiling fans. The group collected construction estimates and has formulated a community fundraising strategy highlighting several events.

Before any work could begin at the clinic, a large-scale cleaning was necessary. 15 volunteers gathered at the FHHC on June 7, to help wash walls, mop floors, and scrub the mold and dirt from the clinic structure. Their efforts were rewarded by an improved clinic appearance and also some refreshments provided by Bormac's and Eldon's. The community support will impact the staff of the clinic who continue to work in these conditions every day."It's been neglected for years and years. It's a government hospital. I don't know what happened. There are leaks all over and the doctor [is] having to move the cabinets and medicines because they get wet," said dentist Marcia Welcome, who sees 7-10 patients per day at the clinic.
For two years, Dr. Jorge Figueroa served as the clinic's sole physician, seeing 35-40 patients daily. He requested federal funding to replace the roof two years ago. "This is forever a problem. Things move slowly with the government," he said. Although Dr. Luis Enceda took over as the doctor of the FHHC a few months ago, Dr. Figueroa continues to inquire about the funding on his own time and expense. He added, "Unfortunately, these problems are not unique only to this clinic."
Lynch cites that the physical renovations are just a beginning. Many staff salaries reportedly remain unpaid and they plan to hire a cleaning person and a night watchman for the clinic. Additionally, supplies such as shelving, chairs, fans, towels, and sheets are still needed. "We will do what we can to help them meet these needs," said Lynch, "any help from the community is really welcomed."

local news
School Walkathon

A group of Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) students gave new meaning to the concept of perfect attendance on Friday when nearly 50 of them arrived at their French Harbour school bright and early on a day when classes were canceled. It was in the name of school spirit that they joined Principal Norma Francis and eight SDA teachers in support of the school's 4th Annual Walk-a-thon.
Organized by Principal Francis, the event is one of the school's popular fundraising activities and, this year, the proceeds will help finance their auditorium's new ceiling. Each of the participants collected 300.00 Lps. in sponsorship pledges before embarking on the 6 km walk from the SDA school in French Harbour to the Coxen Hole Esso Station across from the airport. The group, comprised of 44 students ranging from grades 6-10 and three adults, began their journey under a hot sun at 6:30am. Throughout the course, there were a total of seven checkpoints manned by Walk-a-thon volunteers who not only offered encouragement to the participants, but also provided them with a tab to mark the completion of each section. Principal Francis collected all seven tabs from each athlete as they crossed the finish line, where they were met with praise and applause by those in attendance.
Although the primary goal was to benefit the Auditorium Fund, there was still a competitive edge to the day. Prizes were awarded to the top three finishes in each of the following four categories: Primary Girls, High School Girls, High School Boys, and Adults. First Place winner for the High School Boys category was Elton Woods who recorded an outstanding time of 47 minutes. "I was able to keep a fast pace but it was hardest at the end because I was so hot by then," said Woods. Jennifer Lopez, a graduate this year, completed her final SDA Walk-a-thon on top, finishing First in the High School Girls category and explained, "It was fun but now I just really want to sleep!"
Overall, the morning provided a backdrop for some exercise, healthy competition, and a lot of fun, while still managing to raise key funds for a school project.

business news

A Very Smart Book
by Jaime Johnston

Creators of Smart Pages: Marcia Quinn-Strehlow and Sandra Sampayo

Ever wonder exactly how many churches are housed on this island? In need of a mechanic in your neighborhood? Or maybe you saw a great documentary on whale sharks and decided your life isn't complete until you become a divemaster? The team from Bay Islands Marketing (BIM) will introduce the "Smart Pages" which should answer these questions.
Due out this September, the "Smart Pages" will be a comprehensive business directory with listings from Roatan, Utila and Guanaja.
"The Honduras commercial pages include the Bay Islands, but lack a real specialization (...), especially one that caters to an English market. Our whole aim is to become a resource for everyone on the islands, whether they're local, expats or tourists," said BIM's Sandra Sampayo.
In early May, five local members of the BIM team began compiling a complete list of businesses from their communities. Sampayo explains, "Every person who has a business in this area was canvassed. They are [featured] in this directory." Each business received a free listing in the directory with the option of submitting a more substantial paid advertisement. In total, the Smart Pages list 230 different categories of business, ranging from schools and supermarkets to tailors and restaurants. Various listings for basic services on the mainland will be featured in the publication.

The Smart Pages tool is conceptually comparable to the Bay Islands Map S.A. Phone Book project of 2000-01. BIM decided early in their planning to have the Smart Pages serve solely as a business directory and not a phone book including residential listings. "For us, the white pages option just wasn't viable. It would have been prohibitively expensive and the verification process would have been an enormous responsibility in addition to the Smart Pages project. We never intended to reproduce the Phone Book but to instead provide an extensive business directory, " said Sampayo.
According to Manuel Martinez, who worked on the 2001 Bay Islands Map S.A. Phone Book, their company in fact has future plans to update the phone book. "We continue to study the market but we will again purchase the DiTel phone listing rights to produce a new version of the white pages," said Martinez.
With an initial publication of 10 000 copies, BIM opted to award their Smart Pages contract to a printing firm out of Miami. This decision resulted in a 40% savings from the Tegucigalpa bids, a cost-efficiency attributed to Miami's advanced technology in color printing. Within the Bay Islands, the directories will be available in supermarkets, real estate offices, at the airport, and at the electric company. Copies will also be directed to international residency and immigration offices in the States, as well as to American tourism wholesalers.

Read other issues of
the Bay Islands Voice

No. 1
March 27 2003
No. 2
April 10 20
No. 3
April 24

No. 4
May 8

No. 5
May 22
No. 6
June 5

No. 7
June 19

No. 8
July 3


No. 9
July 17