Friday, July 23, 2004


Dive instructor Matt Isham, 25, gladly received a visit at Kauai's Wilcox Memorial Hospital yesterday from wife Roxanne and their baby, Hayden.

Divers recall
horrific accident

A dive instructor loses his leg while
his student almost loses his right arm

LIHUE >> Matt Isham plans to be back leading scuba diving tours on Kauai in about six months, wearing a prosthetic left leg.


Dennis Claypool plans to be back working in an insurance office in Mesa, Ariz., sooner than that, although his right arm might never rotate properly again.

Yesterday, both said they were just happy to be alive. The two are in rooms a few doors apart at Wilcox Memorial Hospital and are becoming fast friends, as are their families.

"If things hadn't fallen into place as they did, I wouldn't be here today," Isham said.

Isham, 25, a dive instructor on the Blue Dolphin, a Na Pali Coast tour boat, and Claypool, a first-time diver who was with him, were seriously injured when another tour boat, Captain Andy's Spirit of Kauai, ran over them and hit both with its propeller. Isham lost his left leg.

Claypool suffered a cut three-quarters of the way through his right arm.

The crew of the Spirit of Kauai picked up both men, rushed them to the cruise ship Pride of Aloha, which was nearby, and they were treated by the ship's doctor. A helicopter from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range then hoisted them off the ship's deck and rushed them to Lihue, where they were taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital.

Isham's left leg was amputated above the knee. Claypool's arm was severely lacerated, but he has feeling in his right hand and is able to move his fingers.

In a hospital interview yesterday, Isham said he has worked as a dive instructor for Blue Dolphin since 1999. His wife, Roxanne, is a former dive instructor at Sea Sports Divers on Kauai. Since their baby, Hayden, was born four months ago, she has been working in the office.

Isham said Tuesday afternoon that he was leading a group of four divers -- three neophytes and one certified -- on a shallow dive in a bay near the west end of the Na Pali Coast. Two of the uncertified divers were Claypool and his son, Scott, 18.

The elder Claypool was having trouble with his buoyancy compensator and had drifted up near the surface, and Isham went up to help him. Neither broke the surface.

Isham said he saw the Spirit of Kauai just before it hit them. He said he tried to push Claypool down, but they both were hit.

Isham said he knew immediately his left leg was all but cut off. He said he surfaced and called to another instructor who was in a kayak to help Claypool.

"I grabbed my leg and pressed on the pressure points to stop the bleeding and swam to the ladder (of the Spirit of Kauai) with my good leg," Isham recalled.

Claypool also was brought over to the Spirit of Kauai.

Recovering at Wilcox Memorial Hospital yesterday from a diving accident were Dennis Claypool, above, and Matt Isham, below. Claypool's right arm was injured while Isham's left leg was severed.

"I was conscious the whole time. I asked them to put a tourniquet on my leg," Isham said. "Right away, I told the folks on Captain Andy's boat to call my wife and tell her I love her. All I thought about was my wife and my child."

Claypool said the first time he realized they were in trouble was when he saw a look of terror in Isham's eyes. He said he looked up and saw the catamaran going right over them. The right pontoon hit him in the forehead and tumbled him around. The propeller hit his arm, cut his buoyancy compensator and cut off all of his air hoses.

"The doctors told me that what saved me was that when I put my hand up to protect my face, it was pointed at me, so the prop hit only muscle and ligaments and bone. If I had held my hand pointed away from my face, which most people would do instinctively, it would have cut through arteries," Claypool said.

"Matt (Isham) was doing all he could to hold me up, but he only had one leg," Claypool said.

The certified diver in the group surfaced and took over until the other dive instructor arrived in the kayak.

When he got aboard the Spirit of Kauai, he saw immediately how bad Isham's injuries were.

"All four blades of the prop hit his leg, each in a different place. I could see his leg was going in three different directions," Claypool said.

One true piece of luck, Claypool said, was that the cruise ship with a doctor aboard was close by. He said that even though his arm was badly injured, he was able to walk aboard the Pride of Aloha.

"It was just God's kindness that the cruise ship was there," Claypool said.


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