Verena Heinz was a 20-year-old Austrian girl, who loved diving. Her love of diving was passed on to her from her father Dieter, an extremely experienced diver with over 15,000 dives under his belt.
Verena loved everything about diving, her father says that she started diving before she could walk, so she had a licence to operate a boat, she surfed, sailed, scuba-dived and free-dived. Dieter and Verena arrived in Malinska on the island of Krk on Wednesday, July 24th, had a light lunch and decided to go diving – that’s why they came, after all.
They visited a local dive centre to ask the people who worked there to recommend some free-diving locations. One of the reasons why Verena came to Krk was to prepare for the arrival of Christian Redl, Austrian free-diving champion, who Verena helped train, so they were also scouting for the locations.
They took the advice and went to a diving location (most of the story is translated from an interview Dieter Heinz gave to Tomislav Kukec from Jutarnji list, who has been thoroughly reporting this tragic story ever since it happened). They had a meter-wide buoy with them, for protection, the water depth was around 15 meters at the location, and they dove alternately.
There were plenty of jet-skis and speedboats around them, but the visibility was excellent and they thought they were safe, marked with such a large buoy. Then a large speedboat started coming towards them at a high speed. They were certain that the driver would notice them and make a turn, they were quite visible, but that hasn’t happened. The boat came way to close to them, the propeller of the speedboat’s engine severed Verena’s leg and she started sinking. Her father did everything he could to try to save his daughter, but Verena Heinz was too badly hurt to be saved.
The speedboat’s driver came back to see what had happened and fell into shock. He is a 26-year-old, quite experienced man from Zadar, who was found not to have any alcohol in his system. There was another person on the boat with him, his 19-year-old colleague.
An ambulance came, took Verena to Rijeka hospital, her father says he wasn’t allowed to come with, so he had to drive himself over there in his car, and once he got there he wasn’t able to get any information about his daughter’s condition, as supposedly none of the people working there knew any English or German (author’s note: I find this very hard to believe, that none of the people working in a hospital in Rijeka couldn’t communicate in English or German. It seems more likely to me that nobody wanted to tell the father in the state of shock what happened). Just one doctor spoke to him, informing him that his daughter couldn’t be saved.
As soon as it happened, various versions of where the accident took place started appearing in Croatian media and official statements. First, it was said that the father and daughter team were diving at a distance from the coast of over 300 meters. That is forbidden; additionally, speedboats are allowed to reach full speeds at over 300 meters from the shore.
Dieter Heinz claimed that that is simply not true, that they were not that far from the coastline. He told the police and the reporters that he removed his diver’s belt with the weights while he was trying to save Verena and that if they were able to find it, it would pinpoint the exact location of the accident. And that’s exactly what the police divers were able to do, as yesterday it was reported that the weights (and Verena’s leg) were found – at around 200 meters from the shoreline!
That means that the speedboat was not supposed to be going that fast (there was speculation that Dieter and Verena Heinz decided to dive right at a corridor which is dedicated to the boats, where they are allowed to go faster, but Dieter strongly denies that possibility). There’s no explanation as to how it is possible that neither of the two people on the boat saw the pair of divers and their one-meter-wide red and white buoy, because at first they were in too much of a shock to give any statement, and later they maintained that the accident happened much further from the coastline.
Another important fact is that it is not allowed to dive at over 100 meters from the shoreline, unless in an organized group and with a boat. Verena’s father Dieter claims that this is not true, but the fact is that two people with one buoy should not be diving alone at 200 meters away from the shore in Croatia. That does not mean that the speedboat driver was allowed to go that fast, but there is a reason why such a wide buffer-zone exists, and unfortunately, we have (again) seen that reason this July.
The investigation into precise details of this accident continues. Dieter Heinz claims that he does not want the young speedboat operator to end up in jail, he just wants the truth to be known and that more people start paying more attention while at sea so that accidents like this one wouldn’t happen as often as they do. Most public attention has been given to the horrible event when Tomislav Horvatinčić, a Croatian entrepreneur and serial traffic accident participant caused an accident with his yacht in which two Italians were killed.
Verena Heinz was finally laid to rest today, back in her home town of Strobl am Wolfgangsee, where some of her sporting and active friends held a moving tribute to her on Tuesday. Hopefully, her meaningless death will make people more aware of the rules and regulations at sea, and increased awareness of others who might be sharing the same space with us.