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St. Petersburg woman disappears while lobster fishing in Florida Keys

Jamie Greene's diving mask had fogged up in the murky 20-foot waters just north of Big Pine Key. He looked to his wife and pointed to the surface.

Okay, she signed back.

As Greene pulled himself aboard the small fishing boat in the Florida Keys, he saw his wife break the surface about 50 yards away. She appeared panicked.

"Help! Air!'' she called out.

He tugged on the air hose that connected his wife to an onboard breathing machine. He felt its empty weight in his hand.

That was the last time Louann Greene was seen by her husband and two daughters, ages 9 and 13, who also were onboard. After two days of searching, the Coast Guard suspended its efforts late Sunday.

Her death would be at least the seventh in about two weeks of lobster fishing, including three in the past week from the Tampa Bay area.

Family and friends knew Louann Greene, 33, as a girls softball coach, a fireball, "90 pounds of steel.'' She had never fished for lobster. Didn't even eat fish. And she was afraid of sharks.

But on Saturday, she decided to give it a whirl.

• • •

But for a scheduling mixup, the Greenes might not have gone to the Keys. Louann Greene, a champion girls softball coach, was planning to take her daughters to a tournament in Mississippi. The event was postponed.

"She was really tough," said Kathy Saunders, a fellow softball mom and St. Petersburg Times correspondent. "Before girls got used to her, they were kind of taken aback by her."

Greene, who attended Gibbs High School, held after-school practices and made players run laps when they slacked off. She was always coaching softball or cheerleading, her family said.

But she also had a gentle touch. As a medical assistant giving allergy shots in the office of Dr. Mona Mangat, Greene could distract children who were afraid.

"She would say, 'How did that softball game go?' '' Mangat recalled. Before they knew it, she had given them their shots.

• • •

The Greenes had hooked up with several friends Saturday and had hauled in more than 20 lobsters when Louann wanted in on the action.

"She said, 'I want to see it,' " Jamie Greene, 32, recalled. "I said, 'The visibility is not too good.' " He couldn't see more than 5 feet.

They outfitted 90-pound Louann with a weight belt to ease her descent. A "double hookah" breathing machine onboard pumped air through hoses to the two divers.

A little after noon, they entered the water. The husband and wife descended about 20 feet to the sandy bottom. He gave her a thumb's up sign for all is well. Louann returned it.

Moments later, Jamie Greene realized he needed to clear his diving mask. He pointed to the surface.

Again, she acknowledged.

She went up first, and he followed.

"I popped up. I looked around," he said. "I thought, 'Maybe she's on the other side of the boat.' " As he pulled himself aboard, Louann Greene surfaced 50 yards away, calling for help.

Jamie Greene frantically tugged the air hose attached to her weight belt. But instead of pulling his wife toward the boat, the hose broke free.

The boat driver sped to the spot. Jamie Greene dived in but found no sign of his wife. Boats, helicopters and dive teams joined the search.

After 24 hours, all anyone found was a flipper.

Jamie Greene and his children returned to St. Petersburg on Sunday. Friends are still trying to find his wife, he said.

He said he thinks Louann might have taken water into her lungs before she called for help.

"She wanted to do it,'' he said. "She tried it, and it didn't work out."

• • •

Monday morning, cars began pulling into Dr. Mangat's parking lot. Patients there knew Louann, Mangat said. Many had been getting weekly allergy shots from her. She had built relationships with them.

They asked where she was.

"They say, 'We didn't see Lou's car. Is she still on vacation?' " Mangat said.

"Then we have to tell them."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Emily Nipps can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8452.

St. Petersburg woman disappears while lobster fishing in Florida Keys 08/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 9:16am]
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