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Search continues for Utah diver missing in Mexico

Published January 17, 2013 11:43 am

Excursion • West Valley City woman still missing off coast of Cozumel.
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Three days after a West Valley City woman vanished while scuba diving near Cozumel, Mexico, her fate remains a mystery, according to locals involved in a so-far fruitless search.

Tamara Lashlee, 43, disappeared Monday while scuba diving in the Palancar Reef off the southwest coast of Cozumel.

Lashlee reportedly was participating in a guided excursion with Dive Paradise — a local company that caters to tourists — when she failed to surface with the rest of her group.

Renee Applegate, owner and general manager of Dive Paradise, said Thursday Lashlee remains classified as a missing person. By law, Mexican authorities are required to continue the search for 72 hours, Applegate said, though at the request of Lashlee's family locals planned to continue searching even after that period expired Thursday morning.

Applegate also said that rumors of Lashlee's body turning up Tuesday were false. The Spanish-language website Quequi reported Tuesday that Lashlee's body was discovered by a worker cleaning the beach near the Grand Occidental Hotel, on the south end of Cozumel island. The website describes the incident as a drowning but adds that the body will undergo an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

According to Applegate, the worker actually discovered "a bag or something like that." Applegate speculated that instead Lashlee was caught in a kind of whirlpool and became trapped under water.

"The feeling is she was probably pulled down," Applegate explained. "It's an uncommon thing but the oceans have different currents."

Lashlee traveled to Cozumel with two brothers. Her mother, Emma, said Wednesday that Lashlee was certified to scuba dive but that it was her first such trip. Emma also said she was told that Tamara may have been having trouble with her ear.

Applegate said that Lashlee's brothers were heading back to Utah Thursday and are saddened by her disappearance.

"The family is obviously very distraught," Applegate added.

Local authorities, the Armada de Mexico and local dive shops all reportedly participated in the search for Lashlee. U.S. consulate officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Lashlee has three children, ages 22, 19 and 16, was in the process of buying a house and was described by her mother as "adventurous."

jdalrymple@sltrib.com