Dr. Lynne Flaherty, an experienced diver and emergency-room physician who lived in Woodinville, disappeared during a dive Tuesday off the northwest coast of Washington.
On Monday, 61-year-old Lynne Flaherty wrote a Facebook post boasting about the fun she’d had on her first day of diving near Duncan Rock, off the northwest coast of Washington.
Flaherty, who friends describe as a marine-biology enthusiast, had spotted Puget Sound king crabs, tiger rockfish and “clouds of krill so thick they were like silt.” On the surface, she had watched gray whales breach.
“This trip is meeting and surpassing all my expectations,” the Woodinville woman wrote. “We’ll be back!”
During her dive the next day, Flaherty disappeared. After two days of searching, the Coast Guard failed to find any sign of the experienced diver and emergency-room physician.
Most Read Local Stories
- 'Cutting and running': King County closing its doors to street danger sends exactly the wrong message | Danny Westneat
- Driver 'appeared to be dancing and smiling' after Aurora crash that killed 2, charging papers say
- Can you tell which face is real? UW and WSU plan to fight digital ‘deepfakes’ VIEW
- Washington state is No. 1. Of course! But which states are the worst?
- What are the political lines in your Seattle neighborhood? See where council candidates did best, worst.
Flaherty’s husband, Peter Rothschild, who accompanied her on the dives, says Tuesday’s plan was to explore the underwater canyons off Duncan Rock, something that had been on their diving “bucket list.”
There were five divers on the boat, diving in two teams. Flaherty and Rothschild entered the water first, about 10 minutes before the other three divers, Rothschild says.
When they got in the water, they were caught by a down draft, a downward current, that took them a bit away from a ledge they were exploring, and a little deeper than expected, Rothschild says. Regardless, the conditions were “well within the range” of what they had experienced in past dives, he says.
“I stabilized, and saw that she had stabilized and started coming back up. She was above me,” Rothschild said. “I turned away — I may have been looking at one of my gauges or my gear — and when I turned back she was gone.”
Flaherty, an assistant dive instructor with more than 1,200 dives and 10 years of experience, didn’t surface.
The Coast Guard started searching for Flaherty at 11:25 on Tuesday morning, 10 minutes after her dive team had planned to meet back at the surface. The Coast Guard called off the search on Wednesday evening, after 33 hours of combing the coast.
“This is a huge tragedy. The dive community here in Washington state has lost one of the good divers, one of the really good people in the diving industry,” said Dennus Baum, Flaherty’s first dive instructor. “She was very well thought of here.”
Flaherty learned to dive 10 years ago, shortly before she took a trip to Australia with Rothschild. Almost immediately, she was hooked, her husband says.
They started traveling the world together on dive expeditions. Recently, they had been frequenting the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, where they embarked on rigorous and extremely technical cave dives.
“(She loved) the wonder of it. That we’re visitors in an alien environment,” said Rothschild, 67. “She was also a perfectionist, and she wanted to do it perfectly. That’s what she was trying to do every time.”
Rothschild says Flaherty, who graduated with a degree in math before enrolling at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and pursuing a career as a surgeon, was “the brightest person (he’s) ever met.” The pair met during a blind date on the Fourth of July 28 years ago, and have been together “every day since,” he said.
They owned five horses, and both had won amateur titles in the equestrian sport of dressage.
“She was bright, she was caring, she was loving. She was the voice of reason,” he said. “I miss her.”
Flaherty and Rothschild were a certified instructing team and would give lessons together in Woodinville when Flaherty wasn’t working shifts as a part-time emergency room doctor at Kittitas Valley Community Hospital.
“I think some of that training as a doctor carried over to her training as a dive instructor,” Baum said. “She would have a great way of calming (frightened) students and getting them to do what was required of them, the same way as someone who might come into the emergency room a little scared.”
Rothschild and Baum don’t know for sure what happened to Flaherty during Tuesday’s dive. But they both agree that some sort of medical emergency was the most likely alternative.
“She tried to do everything possible to evaluate the risks and limit the risks,” Rothschild said. “A heart attack or stroke or something that made her go unconscious would explain a lot. Whether or not that happened, I have no idea.”
Divers from around the world have offered Rothschild words of support on online-message boards, sharing memories of times when Flaherty offered them advice or mentorship. Friends in the Northwest say she was active in helping less-experienced members of the diving community.
“She always said that she would want everyone to publish the details if she were to ever die so that they could learn from it,” says diving buddy Doug Marcoux. “That’s how generous she was.”
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 26, 2015, was corrected later in the day. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Dr. Lynne Flaherty had attended medical school at the University of Washington. She had gone to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. The article also stated Lynne Flaherty was a certified dive instructor. She was a certified assistant.