Hawaii Husband-and-Wife Team With Unique Diving Expertise to Search for Sewol Victims


A husband-and-wife team from Hawaii with expertise on revolutionary diving equipment will be joining the search efforts for the still missing bodies of the Sewol ferry tragedy.

Todd Winn, 45, and his wife Tiffany Winn, 33, of Maui, will be leaving for South Korea in a few days, as part of a team of American experts trained in the use of self-contained diving equipment, which allows divers to stay under water, at great depths, for several hours. The hope is that, with such expertise and equipment, they can help recover some of the 11 still missing bodies of the Sewol victims.

“We dive this mixed-gas rebreather equipment that allows you to stay down there for upwards of six hours, and we can even extend that to twelve hours if necessary,” Todd described to KoreAm in a phone interview. “But six hour dives, completely self-contained without any surface support required. This equipment has been around a while for the military, but it has only come into civilian use probably in the last decade.”

Todd says that a very small percentage of divers, less than 1 percent, have the kind of special gear.

The Winns, who run a commercial dive and marine technical support operation in Maui, said they were tapped by a diver friend to join the search effort in Korea, which is already into its third month. The U.S. State Department apparently recommended Gallant Aquatic Ventures International, run by the Winns’ friend Joseph Dituri, to Korean officials as an expert source in this kind of difficult deep sea search. “Joe [Dituri] … is a firm believer that this equipment is the future of salvage diving under these types of circumstances,” said Todd. “So we’re going to do this job using this equipment, implementing it in a way that he feels is highly effective. This is coming from a guy who has done a ton of salvage jobs for the Navy.”

The couple has unfortunately had previous experience in conducting body searches in the ocean.

“In Maui, there were a couple of incidents where people have gone missing and when people go missing, they would oftentimes check the ocean,” said Todd. “Back in 2008 and 2009, I did searches in the ocean looking for bodies, specifically that were in those types of environment. That’s not really the reason I’m involved in this project. I’m involved in this project because of my expertise with the gear and because I’ve dived in a shipwreck before, 50 to 60 meters deep.”

In the Sewol search expedition, three divers have died so far, and the Winns admit that they initially refused the mission due to the great risk involved. Tiffany, whose role will be to provide outside support to the divers, explained, “These guys going inside [the ferry] have to deal with lots and lots of cargo, and it’s really unstable. They can lose their way or fall down on their way down there. There’s so many risk factors involved.”

There will also be very low visibility within the sunken ferry, so the diving team will have to search mostly by feeling their way around the ship. However, she said she feels a little better knowing that their diving equipment allows for a six-hour window, in case a rescue of one of the divers is needed.

Todd said that one benefit of participating in this type of challenging salvage operation is that he has a chance to gain experience that can only be attained doing this type of project.

But more than that, the father in him persuaded him to accept the dangerous mission. Many of the more than 300 victims of the ferry sinking were high school students.

“I understand the needs of the family, and I think that was really the deciding factor. I have a college-aged son and I asked myself, ‘How would I feel if he was unrecovered in that boat? Would I want everything possible done to get his body back?’” said Todd. “And the truth is, yeah, I would.”

Picture via Hawaii News Now