But I find this story of a missing diver particularly haunting - esp when I read about how they recovered her dive gear which was found all in one location - apparently stacked neatly in one pile. Then I read that it was her BCD, her air tank, her camera and mask/snorkel.... if this was the case then its not so strange. The BCD, air tank are connected together - the camera was probably also tied together with the BCD as its commonly done. The mask/snorkel are also attached. Divers who panic sometimes pull off their masks, esp if they get flooded with water.
Although the sea was calm - the visibility underwater was not so good - about 5m.
From the Herald Sun
A YABBY in a tank on her dining table. An injured pigeon in a borrowed humidicrib next to her bed.
Stray cats - a black male she nicknamed Giovani - and a tabby that climbed through her kitchen window for a daily feed.
It seemed every time Karen Lee chatted to best mate Nina Gondos, there was a new animal tale.
The menagerie wasn't confined to the cramped ground-floor Preston studio where Lee, 42, lived alone, far from her homeland Malaysia, which she had left aged 14 when her parents split.
Once she came across a paddock with about a dozen sheep and, fearing they were hungry, returned each weekend to hand-feed them a bale of hay and two kilos of apples.
The toxicology officer at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine was also a trained snake-handler, a step towards her ultimate dream of obtaining a PhD in poisons.
"She lived in a tiny apartment, crammed full of belongings." Nina recalls.
"I never bought her anything big for a present because she had nowhere to put it.
"I think she loved diving because it was her escape. It was her way of being free and getting out."
SOMETIMES fate is cruel. There shouldn't have been any trace of Karen on a Dive Victoria trip to the wreck of the SS Coogee.
Friend Nina says Karen originally booked for June 24, but shifted to last Saturday when her dive partner cancelled.
They set out in perfect conditions: zero swell, bright sun, no cloud cover, a light breeze and water temperatures of 11-14C.
The group set off after lunch at Portsea. At 2.25pm, splash. In they went.
By 3.15pm, Karen Lee had vanished.
Police divers finally found a neat pile of her gear the next day, resting on the sea floor 30m down, about 50m from the wreck.
Karen's single air tank, a weight belt, and buoyancy gear sat atop each other, with visible cut or bite marks hinting they'd been gnawed by marine life.
Still attached were a camera, a furled inflatable "safety sausage", a lead pencil, and a slate marked with the pre-dive plan but no other messages.
A mask and snorkel lay about 4m away. There was no sign, though, of Karen. Or her thick wetsuit. Or her flippers.
The pile baffled Acting Sergeant Ryan Hartshorne, of Police Search and Rescue: "I've never been down to find someone's gear and they're not there."
Photos from her camera show postcard-perfect shots of her adventures - coral, the shipwreck, fish and other marine life. But not a single frame of her.
MARCO Di Leo was resting on the deck of the Ocean Diver when the alarm was raised.
Karen's bewildered dive buddy reported seeing her just two arm-lengths away from him, at a resting point about 8m from the surface.
Mr Di Leo and another on the ill-fated trip, Kylie Sargent, were the only ones with enough air and experience to jump straight in and begin a search.
At best, Mr Di Leo hoped he could help rescue Karen. But he was also prepared for the possibility he might have to drag up a body.
With their own clocks ticking before they ran out of air, they trawled along the shipwreck thinking Ms Lee had become caught on it or some coral.
Out of air and out of time, they surfaced with no clues.
Soon three boats, a helicopter and more than 40 pairs of eyes scanned the still water as their minds turned over the possibilities.
Had Karen had an equipment failure? Had the occasional asthmatic suffered an attack or another medical problem? Become disoriented? Lost buoyancy? Been snatched by a shark?
Ms Sargent sat with Karen's distraught dive buddy - who has since been questioned and cleared by police of any involvement - for much of that time.
"We wrapped him up in blankets, put him in dry clothes and I put my arm around him," she says.
"I couldn't say everything would be all right because we knew there was a chance it wouldn't be."
NINA Gondos met Karen during the Black Saturday bushfires, when the Wildlife Victoria volunteer helped rescue koalas from burnt trees.
"We worked up to 16 hours a day, and at night she would study in her tent," Nina recalls.
Helping people and hard work were her nature.
The day after the ill-fated dive, Karen had promised to help a friend scrub the deck of a boat in Leongatha.
The committed State Emergency Service volunteer spent four years with the Northcote unit assisting at countless home and flood emergencies.
Come this week, her SES comrades were called on to find her.
They walked for kilometres looking for her with a belief her body has been washed up on a local beach, even using excavators to move seaweed.
SES unit controller Chris Patton told of their heartbreak for a staff member so keen she rang up and offered to work even when rostered off. "She has done the same SES beach searches in her time and it was quite emotional and moving to watch SES members search for one of your own," Mr Patton said.
SOME people live for animals. A dog to cuddle or a cat to stroke. The pet yabby in the tank on Karen's dining table - which some of her SES friends have now vowed to adopt - was a replacement for another that died.
A particularly treasured item was a photo, taken during a work trip to the US, of her cosying up with a rare beluga whale. Her face beamed with delight as the majestic white seemed to lean close for a kiss.
Another favoured possession was a ring with her name written in Egyptian, virtually her only piece of jewellery, stored in a ceramic, shark-shaped box on her desk.
Nina is adamant Karen wouldn't want a witch-hunt or a blame game over her death.
"The last thing she would have wanted is for anyone to be blaming a shark," she says. "Animals were her life."
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