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WATER WAY TO WAVE GOODBYE!; Underwater-takers help clients go with a splash.

Undertaker Austin Riley always lets grieving relatives have a farewell wave - when he drops their loved one into the ocean.

Austin and partner Stephen Charles-Davis specialise in burials at sea.

They charge pounds 3,000 - double the price of an average funeral - but the dear departed don't half go with a splash.

Stephen started the business 10 years ago because his dad wanted a send- off at sea but couldn't find anyone to do the job.

Since then the underwater-takers have sent more than 200 people to Davy Jones's locker.

Austin, a retired medical expert, said: "It's very popular with the environmentally- aware."

But regulations are strict. Austin and Stephen, based at Newton Poppleford, Devon, had to get a Government licence.

Sea burials are allowed at only two spots around England - 11 miles off Newhaven, East Sussex, and 2.5 miles off The Needles on the Isle of Wight.

The coffin is launched from a hydraulic platform at the back of a hired ferry. The casket sinks immediately because it is drilled with 48 two- inch holes and is weighted with a quarter of a ton of concrete.

It has been designed so that it disintegrates naturally - along with its contents - within five years. Most burials are plain sailing but Austin and Stephen have had some odd requests.

One sailor wanted a Viking funeral with his body pushed out to sea on his blazing yacht. The authorities refused.

Austin said: "We have a musician on our books who wants a piano-playing diver to accompany his body."

With Handel's Water Music, of course.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Garfinkel, David
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 15, 1997
Words:262
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