Rescued diver tells of epic 56-hour struggle to survive

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The Independent Online

When the crew of a yacht spotted Matthew Harvey floating unconscious off Guernsey some 56 hours after he had gone missing while diving, his survival was heralded as miraculous.

But the epic nature of the 35-year-old scuba diver's ordeal only became clear when he revealed he had spent much of the two and a half days semi-conscious on rocks only to return to the water to swim to safety - with near-disastrous consequences.

In the first account of his disappearance, Mr Harvey said he got into trouble when he was struck by a boat while out on a solo dive on Saturday morning in treacherous waters off the east coast of the Channel island.

The failure of the museum worker to return from his dive in Fermain Bay led to one of the largest search operations in Guernsey's history with more than 20 vessels joining lifeboats, helicopters and police divers over three days. But while rescuers were fruitlessly scouring the seas, Mr Harvey, who was at first knocked unconscious by the collision with the boat and lost his mask and oxygen regulator, was lying in a rocky inlet. He had swum for up to six hours against tides running "like an express train".

The keen amateur diver, who is recovering at home after being discharged from hospital, said: "I was taken out several miles by the current before the tide reached slack. I continued to swim across the flow, trying to reach the south coast [of Guernsey]. I was completely exhausted and eventually hit the coast late on Saturday afternoon. I dragged myself ashore into a gully and collapsed into some rocks and presumably passed out. I know now that I was amongst the rocks in the gully for Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night, semi-conscious. But, at the time, I thought I had only been there one night."

Mr Harvey decided his best option was to start swimming again, in the belief that he was near to the town of Petit Port on the southern tip of the island.

"I had no energy left at all to try and climb the cliffs," the social history officer for Guernsey Museum Service said: "I had not been aware of any rescuers looking for me and felt my best chance was to wait for the tide.

"I believed I had come ashore a little way west of Petit Port so, by pushing out into the tide, I could drift round and with a short swim come ashore on the beach. I hadn't eaten and hadn't recovered my strength and felt that it was my best chance."

Mr Harvey told of his "horror" when he realised he was instead to the east of Petit Port and found himself being dragged out to sea. He again spent hours trying to swim against the current. Finally, he lost consciousness.

It was at about this time - 4pm on Monday - that search co-ordinators told his wife, Katie, 35, and his parents, Dan and Marlene, that the operation was being called off. The diver was classified as missing, feared dead.

Shortly before 7pm, Steve and Anne-Marie Westwood were about to head home on their yacht, Freebooter, after watching dolphins in Fermain Bay. They noticed an object in the water. On closer inspection, it proved to be the missing diver.

Mrs Westwood said she and her husband had been in a hurry and nearly not stopped: "We thought something wasn't right. It could so easily have been that we just carried on."

Mr Harvey was taken to shore by a passing speedboat. His only physical injury was found to be some scratches to his head.