Laura Hernandez was paddleboarding at Back Beach in Rockport on Aug. 20 when she lost her balance and fell into the water with a splash.
Moments later, she realized her iPhone 13 that she had been carrying in her pocket was gone.
The 29-year-old New York resident peered down into the water, frantically looking for her phone, which was in a pink waterproof pouch. But the water was too deep to see the bottom.
She went back to the beach the next morning, approached a scuba diving class, and told them what happened. The dive instructor, Larry Bettencourt of Undersea Divers Inc., told her the odds of finding it — even in a bright pink case — weren’t good.
“He politely informed Laura that she was talking to a group of uncertified student divers, and he was very honest,” recalled one of the novices, Vanessa Kahn, 26, of Peabody. “He didn’t want to get her hopes up.”
Bettencourt told his students to keep their eyes peeled for a flash of pink, Kahn said, even if the phone, underwater for nearly a day, was surely waterlogged by now.
“I really don’t think we’re gonna find it,” she recalled him saying. “And if we do, it’s not even going to be working.”
It was Kahn’s first time doing open-water dives in the ocean, and the group was in water about 25 feet deep when she spotted Hernandez’s phone on the bottom.
“It was kind of a miracle in itself because we could have swam right by it and not even noticed it,” she said, noting that the visibility was only about 5 to 10 feet.
“The bright pink waterproof case stuck out like a sore thumb ... it was like almost neatly placed into a bed of green seaweed,” Kahn said. “I kind of looked around to see if any of my classmates had seen it and it seemed like nobody was even really paying attention. Like everyone was just focused on swimming and breathing and doing their thing. So I swam over to it and I grabbed it.”
Even better, when she waved the phone around in the water, the screen glowed like a coral reef. When she got to the surface, she turned on the camera and snapped a quick selfie to celebrate.
“I thought that would be funny for [Hernandez] to find later on,” she said.
From the water, Kahn saw Hernandez waiting on the shore. She caught her attention and waved the phone in triumph.
“Her face lit up,” she said. “I could tell that she was so excited.”
“When I got back to the shore, I handed it over to her and I was dripping wet, I was still in my full gear, and she came over and she gave me the biggest hug,” she said.
For Kahn, the dive was one she won’t soon forget.
“I was just so thrilled,” she said. “It made her day and it made my day. As a diver that wasn’t even certified yet, what a confidence booster to emerge from the deep with this, like, buried treasure.”
Hernandez figured it would be close to impossible to find her phone and said she is forever grateful to Kahn and the scuba diving class. She insisted on giving Kahn a $300 reward.
“I was like, thank you so much, that basically covers the cost of my class for that day,” Kahn said. “It was a win-win situation. She paid for my class, and I brought her phone back.”