Simon Pridmore

The Diver Who Fell from the Sky

Maverick, innovator, entrepreneur, environmentalist and sheer force of nature, Francis Toribiong would have been a unique and significant individual no matter where in the world he was born. As it turned out, he was born in the island nation of Palau in the Western Pacific at just the right time to apply his special set of skills and attributes to the task of helping his country find its place in the world.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he arguably did more than anyone to build Palau’s economy and help it develop into an independent, forward-looking nation. And, improbably, he achieved this via the sport of scuba diving.

Francis Toribiong is a Pacific Islander like no other. He is the father of Palau tourism, a scuba diving pioneer, and an effective, tireless ambassador for both his country and its abundant marine and land resources. He was born poor and had no academic leanings. Yet he was driven to succeed by a combination of duty, faith, a deep-seated determination to do the right thing and an absolute refusal ever to compromise his values.

For his whole life, he has been a devoted friend to strangers and an implacable opponent to anybody who, through malevolence or negligence, threatens Palau’s considerable natural treasures. He has also been the perfect host to generations of scuba divers from all over the world, who have visited Palau to see those treasures for themselves.

And, as well as all that, he was Palau’s first ever parachutist — known throughout the islands as the Palauan who fell from the sky. They were speaking both literally and figuratively. He was so completely different from all of his contemporaries in terms of his demeanor, his ambitions and his vision, that it was as if he had come from outer space. Palau had never seen anybody quite like him and there was no historical precedent for what Francis Toribiong did. He had no operations manual to consult and no examples to follow. He wrote his own life.

Francis Toribiong was the first Palauan ever to seek and seize the international narrative. No Palauan, in any context or field, had previously thought to go out into the world and say: “This is Palau — what we have is wonderful. Come and see!” This is his astonishing story.
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