Samaritans rescue stranded diver from Gulf of Mexico

David Albers/Staff
- Naples resident Cindy Tutino hugs her son, Doug Tutino, after unloading from a diving trip where she became separated from her boat while diving the Santa Lucia wreck about 4 miles off of Gordon Pass in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.  Tutino drifted a couple miles away from the boat and was rescued by a Good Samaritan boater as several rescue agencies and private boats searched for her.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Naples resident Cindy Tutino hugs her son, Doug Tutino, after unloading from a diving trip where she became separated from her boat while diving the Santa Lucia wreck about 4 miles off of Gordon Pass in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. Tutino drifted a couple miles away from the boat and was rescued by a Good Samaritan boater as several rescue agencies and private boats searched for her.

A bathing suit top, a swim fin, some ingenuity and a couple Samaritans saved Cindy Tutino.

The 56-year-old found herself alone Friday afternoon in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, separated from her family during a diving excursion.

Tutino threw caution — and her bikini top — to the wind.

She tied it to a swim fin and waived it to attract boaters.

"Thank God for the yellow bathing suit," she said.

David Albers/Staff
- Naples resident Cindy Tutino speaks about her experience of becoming separated from her boat while diving the Santa Lucia wreck about 4 miles off of Gordon Pass in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.  Tutino drifted a couple miles away from the boat and was rescued by a Good Samaritan boater as several rescue agencies and private boats searched for her.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Naples resident Cindy Tutino speaks about her experience of becoming separated from her boat while diving the Santa Lucia wreck about 4 miles off of Gordon Pass in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. Tutino drifted a couple miles away from the boat and was rescued by a Good Samaritan boater as several rescue agencies and private boats searched for her.

The homemade distress flag caught the attention of David and Lyn Hunerberg. The couple, in their 58-foot Sea Ray boat named Livin' Easy, rescued Tutino.

"She's a very bright lady," David Hunerber said of Tutino's signaling idea, adding they saw sharks and a dolphin before locating her. "She was probably three-quarters of a mile from shore."

Tutino got separated from her boat, with husband Bill and son Doug aboard, during a dive of the wreck Santa Lucia, also known as "the Cuban." The popular fishing and diving spot is about four miles off the Gordon Pass.

Tutino said she had been cleaning up discarded casting nets that sometimes trap fish on the wreck. She surfaced and couldn't find the boat.

"I go up after 30 minutes if I am diving by myself," she said. "I was on a line so I am never away from the point I started, but there was no boat."

The boat, a 22-foot Horizon, had drifted, she said.

Tutino, who has been diving for 25 years, said she didn't panic.

"I thought about swimming toward them, but I knew they were drifting and I would never get to them. So I swam toward shore," she said.

"But my biggest fear was what my husband and son would think when they realized I was missing."

On the boat, Tutino's husband and son did get concerned when Cindy hadn't surfaced in about 45 minutes.

"I didn't know what happened, if she was at the bottom, stuck," Bill Tutino said.

Doug Tutino said he was confident his mother would be fine, but knew it was unlike her to not come up after about 30 minutes.

A worried Bill Tutino called authorities, which sent out a cavalry of rescue boats and divers. Rescue units with the Collier Sheriff's Office, the Naples Police Department, Naples Fire Department, North Naples Fire Department, The Coast Guard, Naples Harbor Master, Boat U.S. and Sea Tow responded to the call.

Harbor Master Roger Jacobsen said he received the call about 2:30 p.m. that a diver was missing on the wreck. He said he and Sea Tow made it to the scene first, but did not see the Tutino's vessel.

Jacobsen said he called for backup and headed south, eventually finding the Tutinos' boat. Divers began searching the wreck.

In the water, Cindy Tutino said she began to see boats heading toward the wreck.

"I was confident I would swim to shore or someone would find me," she said.

After hearing the rescue call and the radio chatter between Bill Tutino and authorities, the Hunerbergs decided to join the search.

Familiar with the currents and wind patterns around the dive site, the Hunerbergs headed away from the wreck and the other searchers.

Around 4 p.m., Lyn Hunerberg spotted Cindy Tutino through her binoculars.

"We like to float around and so we know what the tides do and what the current and the wind does," David Hunerberg said. "We decided to go look in the area we thought she could be."

Jacobsen gave her worried family the news.

"She was tired and exhausted, but she was OK," he said. "The relief on (Bill and Doug Tutino's) faces when they heard ... I'll remember that."

Cindy Tutino said she was thankful to the rescue agencies and the private individuals who searched for her."I am really humbled by that," she said.

After spending hours in the water, Cindy Tutino escaped with only a few cuts on her feet from her swim fins.

"It's not a big story, but it has a happy ending," she said.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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