This Week Marks 24-year Anniversary of Diving Tragedy Near Zillah
It was March 15 of 1997 when a terrible tragedy struck in the lower Yakima valley. This week marks the 24th anniversary of the death of four scuba divers in March of 1997 near Zillah. The four were killed after diving into a deep underground irrigation canal in the Zillah area. On March 15th of 1997 commercial divers Marty Rhode and John Eberle along with volunteer search-and-rescue divers Rusty Hauber and Charlie “J.R.” Mestaz died. Hauber and Mestaz died after trying to rescue the commercial divers Rhode and Eberle.
All the divers ran out of air and investigators say it was the result of the wrong calculations about how much air they needed to dive in the deep canal. Rhode and Eberle had entered the Roza Irrigation District north Zillah siphon, better known as Siphon 4 to remove stolen vehicles. The siphon is more than 2,200 feet long and 100 feet below the surface. The cars were found and removed from the siphon but they were found on the opposite end of where the divers first entered the siphon. Officials say had the divers first entered on the side where the cars were found in shallow water the tragedy may have been avoided. The tragedy impacted firefighters around the valley since Rusty Hauber was a Yakima Firefighter and Mestaz a volunteer firefighter in the lower Yakima valley.
The investigators say the divers didn't have safety lines and no communication with the surface when they entered the siphon.
Today, 24-years later the tragedy is still something to study and experts say many of the mistakes that were made on that day are being used to teach divers how to stay safe.