SILVER-VALKER, Laurel (c. 1970-2015), drowned while scuba diving at Ship Rock, Santa Catalina Island, on December 27, 2015. She was 45 years old.
In the News~
December 30, 2015 : “Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and fire departments and Baywatch continued searching Wednesday for a woman who went missing while scuba diving off Catalina Island. The crew of the Sundiver Express reported the diver missing just before noon Tuesday, about three miles off the Isthmus Cove section of the island near Ship Rock, an area popular with divers. A lifeguard dive team was conducting a search along with Baywatch and sheriff’s department units and U.S. Coast Guard personnel, according to Lifeguard Specialist Lidia Barillas of the Lifeguards Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The Coast Guard sent a 45-foot patrol boat, a helicopter and the cutter Narwhal to assist in the search for the woman, whose name was not released. She was described as being about 45 years old and wearing a black suit and white tank, according to Sandra Kay Kneen of the Coast Guard.”
December 31, 2015 [OCRegister]: “Search launched for woman diving near Catalina Island. Authorities searched Thursday for a Tustin woman missing since Tuesday while scuba diving near Catalina Island. Laurel Silver-Valker, 45, dove into the waters off Ship Rock looking for lobsters when she disappeared, said Sgt. Dave Carver of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A boat captain on the commercial vessel from which she dived called the Coast Guard around 9:30 a.m. when she didn’t resurface. Efforts to find her were unsuccessful, and the search was called off at dusk. Divers resumed the search Thursday, reaching depths of 190 feet, but still had not found her, Carver said. “She’s still a missing person right now,” Carver said. Silver-Valker, a former special education teacher who is well-known in the diving community, was an experienced diver who was close to making her 1,000th dive, her sister Valerie Silver told The Orange County Register. She had taken up the sport around 10 years ago, her sister said. “My sister loved diving and was a dive master,” Silver said. “She was a very experienced and strong diver. Diving was her life.” Ship Rock, 2-3 miles off Ishmus Harbor on the island, is a popular diving area where depths can quickly go from 60 to 150 feet, Carver said. “It’s almost like a volcano where it drops off,” Carver said. “She had been diving there lots of times,” Silver said. “She knew that area very well.” Silver-Valker suffered a back injury several years ago and often dived for lobsters as a form of therapy, going down 90 feet to perform yoga stretches. Silver, who is engaged to be married, said she was with her sister the night before she went missing to make wedding bouquets. Her family was hopeful she will be found safe. “As long as they keep searching, you pray for the miracles,“ she said.”
January 13, 2016 [LAT]: “Authorities say tour boat left missing scuba diver behind at Catalina Island. A commercial tour boat initially left behind a scuba diver who hasn’t been seen since she went looking for lobsters Dec. 29 near Catalina Island, Sgt. Dave Carver of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told the Register on Wednesday. A team of 20 or 30 divers will be back in the water Thursday, Carver said, as they continue the search for Laurel Silver-Valker. “We’re investigating,” said Carver, who’s been overseeing search and rescue efforts. “First, we need to find Laurel.” Reached by phone Wednesday, Kyaa Heller, who is identified as captain of the Sundiver International tour boat company on its website, declined to comment for this story. Meanwhile, family and friends are reflecting on the 45-year-old Tustin resident’s legacy while still holding out for a miracle. “We just keep hoping she’s on a fishing boat somewhere with no radio, so they haven’t been able to reach us,” sister Valerie Silver said. “But if she were to choose how she would have gone and where, it definitely would have been in the ocean doing what she loved. So there’s some sweetness to that.” On the morning of Dec. 29, Sundiver International – an eco tour company in Long Beach – shared two photos of clear blue skies and calm waters and Ship Rock on the company’s Facebook page. The caption read, “Gorgeous day and a full boat!” Silver-Valker, a longtime diver who her sister said often volunteered with boat crews such as the Sundiver so she could continue pursuing her passion, was along for the trip. She suffered a back injury years ago and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes chronic pain, but continued to dive, Silver said. Silver-Valker had been diving many times at Ship Rock, a popular spot with steep drop-offs a few miles from Catalina Island’s Two Harbors, her sister said. She dove into the water there at around 9:35 a.m. on Dec. 29, Carver said. The company posted the Facebook photos at 10:06 a.m. “The boat ended up leaving Ship Rock,” Carver said. “They went to a different dive site before realizing that she was not on board the boat.” The Sundiver returned to Ship Rock and crews began searching for Silver-Valker, Carver said. At around noon, Carver said the captain of the 48-foot boat called the Coast Guard to notify authorities she was missing.Rescue teams have been searching for Silver-Valker since that day, but no trace has been found. Silver-Valker spent a decade teaching special education. That included stints for Orange County Department of Education, Greenfield High School near Monterey and Palisades Charter High School. The mother of two took up diving around 10 years ago and was close to making her 1,000th dive, according to Silver. She often dived for lobsters as a form of therapy, her sister said, going down 90 feet to perform yoga stretches. “Diving was her life,” Silver said. Dive friends described Silver-Valker in online posts as “joy made flesh” with a smile that was “contagious.” That outlook on life is what drew Tom Gordon to her when the pair met in February 2013. “I saw her sparkle in her eyes and I fell in love that night. She’d always told me it was a couple weeks for her,” Gordon said with a laugh. Soon they were taking Silver-Valker’s service dog, Maple, for walks on the beach and spending days at Disneyland. Gordon would make her sugar-filled coffee each morning, and she’d hide notes for him near his computer. They called each other “my love.” For holidays, Gordon would buy her books filled with the world’s best dive spots. “We figured we had another 30 years together, so we could hit one or two a year and be great,” Gordon said. Silver-Valker is survived by Gordon; adult sons Alex Valker and Graham Valker; five younger siblings; her mother, Eileen Silver; a 4-year-old grandchild; and a number of cousins, nephews and other extended members of her biological, educational and diving family.”
January 14, 2016 [CBSLA.com)]: “LONG BEACH — Known for her love of diving, authorities say a woman is still missing after allegedly being left behind by a commercial tour boat. Laurel Silver-Valker, 45, was last seen near Catalina Island Dec. 29 diving for lobster with Sundiver International Tour Boat Co. based in Long Beach. It’s something her family says she did often. Silver-Valker’s Facebook photos paint a picture of a mother and a grandmother who for the last decade centered her life around diving, often taking diving trips with her boyfriend. On Thursday night, her family was too devastated to speak on-camera but her sister told CBS2’s Stacey Butler they’re focused on finding her and remembering the joy she brought to everyone she knew. This isn’t the first time, however, the company has been accused of leaving someone behind. Back in 2010, Dan Carlock won a $1.6 million judgment against Sundiver, as well as Ocean Adventures Dive Company out of Venice Beach over allegations he was abandoned floating in the ocean 12 miles off Long Beach. “A million things went through my head and you know I went through all of the logical things, of course, somebody else must have gotten in trouble. That’s why I’m still out here,” said the Orange County engineer. Carlock survived. The captain of the boat, Ray Arntz, lost his license for a few months. Today, he’s listed as one of two captains on the company’s website. On Thursday night, Butler spoke with Carlock over the phone. He was shocked and saddened to hear the news and said he’d hoped the company would have learned from his experience.”
January 15, 2016 [OCR]: “California says tour company that left missing scuba diver shouldn't have been doing business because of tax issues. The tour boat company that left a missing scuba diver behind off Catalina Island lost the right to conduct business in California nearly four years ago due to tax issues, according to state records. Sundiver International Inc. of Long Beach has unfiled tax returns and $3,991 in unpaid taxes, according to the Franchise Tax Board. Records show the tax board suspended Sundiver International on Feb. 1, 2012. “When a company is suspended, they are not supposed to be engaged in any business,” said Melissa Marsh, a Los Angeles attorney who helps revive suspended companies. “They are not allowed to collect any money. The banks have a right to close their accounts. Suspended businesses also are not allowed to defend themselves in court, according to state code. That restriction could become particularly troublesome for Sundiver owners after what happened on Dec. 29. That morning, Laurel Silver-Valker of Tustin went diving for lobsters off the coast of Catalina Island with Sundiver Express. The boat left the dive site without realizing Silver-Valker wasn’t on board, according to Sgt. Dave Carver with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The Sundiver Express returned to search for Silver-Valker, Carver said, but was unable to find her and notified the Coast Guard. Authorities have been searching for Silver-Valker since that day, but haven’t found her. Sundiver left a diver behind once before, off Newport Beach in 2004. That diver, Daniel Carlock, in 2010 won a lawsuit against Sundiver and operator Ocean Adventures for $1.68 million.”
June 15, 2016 : “Dead diver in Catalina: Boat operator turns in license in federal probe. A U.S. Coast Guard investigation into the disappearance and presumed death of a diver near Catalina Island has resulted in the voluntary surrender of the credentials of a dive boat operator, authorities said Wednesday. The case stemmed from a casualty aboard the 43-foot commercial passenger vessel Sundiver Express, which was operating out of Long Beach, a Coast Guard statement said. “Under the direction and control of Kyaa Heller, the Sundiver Express departed from a dive site off Catalina Island Dec. 29, 2015 while a dive passenger was unaccounted for after entering the water for a recreational dive,” the Coast Guard said. “A search and rescue effort ensued when the passenger, Laurel Silver-Valker was later discovered missing from the vessel at the next dive site. Silver-Valker was never located and is presumed deceased,” the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard investigated, and filed an administrative complaint seeking revocation of Heller’s merchant mariner credential, with six alleged offenses, including negligence for failing to maintain proper passenger accountability, and misconduct related to the operation of a commercial vessel. “In lieu of appearing at a suspension and revocation hearing before a federal administrative law judge, Heller elected to voluntarily surrender her merchant mariner credential to the Coast Guard on June 6, 2016,” the Coast Guard said. By surrendering her credential, Heller is no longer authorized to serve as “Master of a commercial vessel,” the Coast Guard said. “This is a tragic case, and our hope is that the small passenger vessel community, and in particular, dive boat operators, take some important lessons from this case to prevent such an incident from ever happening again,” the Coast Guard said. “There is no excuse for departing a dive site without confirming all passengers are on board and accounted for,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Menefee, senior investigating officer, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. “Passenger vessel operators must take the role and responsibility of Master seriously, as the safety of their passengers is in their hands. The responsibility of a Master cannot be delegated,” Menefee said. Coast Guard suspension and revocation proceedings are administrative in nature, and are intended to maintain standards of competence and conduct necessary to minimize loss of life, personnel injury, property damage, and environmental harm on the high seas and upon U.S. waters. Following the casualty, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach released a marine safety bulletin reminding all small passenger vessel operators of the importance of passenger accountability. The safety bulletin can be found at http://go.usa.gov/chwjH.”