SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month

MISSING DIVER UPDATE: Rescue operation switches to recovery off shore of Grayton Beach

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

GRAYTON BEACH — The search for a scuba diver who went missing late Sunday morning while diving, was shifting from a rescue operation to a recovery operation on Monday afternoon, according to Corey Dobridnia, public information officer with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

The diver was operating from a 26-foot catamaran in the Gulf of Mexico about three miles south of Grayton Beach.

Sheriff’s Office officials have met with the family of 34-year-old Marie Kaas of Madison, Alabama, Dobridnia said Monday afternoon. The water in the area from which Kaas went missing is 60 to 70 feet deep, according to Dobridnia. Kaas was with family on the boat when she went missing.

Three Coast Guard assets — an 87-foot cutter, a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans and a 45-foot rescue boat from Coast Guard Station Destin — remained on the scene Monday afternoon, according to a Coast Guard spokesman.

The cutter on scene Monday replaced a cutter that had been involved in the search overnight for Kaas.

As of Monday afternoon, the Coast Guard search area covered approximately 1,600 square nautical miles, according to the spokesman.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office was notified shortly before noon Sunday via a 911 call that Kaas had gone missing, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office.

In addition to the Coast Guard assets, a number of local emergency response units remained involved in the search for Kaas on Monday afternoon, according to the Coast Guard spokesman. In addition to the Coast Guard, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office dive team — which was pulled from the water as a storm moved through the area Sunday, but was back out on the water Monday — has been on the scene, along with the South Walton Fire District and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Service.

Anticipating the worst on Monday, Kathy Lighton, who runs a yoga studio in Huntsville, Alabama, where Kaas had taught yoga some time ago, said Kaas, who has two young children, is “very talented” in yoga, with “a natural affinity” for the discipline. To her knowledge, Lighton said, Kaas has been teaching yoga privately.

In addition to yoga, Kaas has considerable culinary talents, Lighton said, and makes jams and salsas. Lighton, who said she last spoke with Kaas about a year ago, called her “very creative.”

Kaas also is a physical fitness aficionado, according to Lighton, working out frequently.

News that Kaas had gone missing hit the local yoga community — Madison is just 10 miles from Huntsville — very hard, according to Lighton.

Kaas is, Lighton said, “very hard not to like.”

Even as the search for Kaas was switching from a rescue operation to a recovery operation on Monday, the Coast Guard was searching for “a possible person in the water near East Pensacola Beach in Pensacola,” according to a Coast Guard news release.

Coast Guard Sector Mobile was notified shortly before 8 a.m. Monday that a kite used for kite-surfing had been located on the beach in the Gulf of Mexico near East Pensacola Beach. The kite “appeared as though it was being used,” but no one was seen in its vicinity, according to the news release.

A 45-foot response boat and a helicopter were dispatched to the scene, and the Coast Guard is asking anyone with information to call the Sector Mobile Command Center at (251) 441-6211.