A Deceptively Easy Way to Die by Rosemary E Lunn

It is late Sunday night – the 29th December 2013 if you want me to be precise – and I am writing this article with my head and heart full of mixed emotions. I keep on thinking back to a dive that took place a mere four days ago. It was not a special or significant dive. It was not carried out by a leading explorer nor a diving personality. No one found a new species of fish or discovered a wreck, yet this dive has made international headlines. It has been discussed around the World on many newspaper and diving forums. Leading members of our community have spoken out and commented about it, just because of the outcome of this dive.

Cave divers, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, safe diving practices, Florida cave diving

Prepared, experienced cave divers at the Wes Skiles Peacock Springs Park by Rosemary E Lunn / The Underwater Marketing Company

On Christmas morning a 35-year-old man took his 15-year-old son for a dive. They were trying out new scuba equipment excitedly unwrapped earlier that day. It all sounds quite normal until you add in the fact that the father was not a diving instructor, the son had no scuba training, and neither of them had cave diving training. Why do I mention this? The site chosen was Eagles Nest.

Eagles Nest is a deep (94 m / 310 ft) sink cave based in Florida, USA. The NACD (The National Association for Cave Diving) and the NSS-CDS (National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section) clearly state that this is a very advanced dive and the minimum qualification to dive this site is a ‘Full Cave’ certification, a Trimix ticket and the diver should have appropriate experience with deep cave dives. Neither diver met these key criteria.

It was a ‘Silent Night’. The two bodies were recovered before Midnight on Christmas Day. This day will never ever be the same for the family, the officials who attended this scene and the cave divers who were called out to do the body recovery.

Eagles Nest, Diving Warning Sign, diving safety, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, scuba diving, cave diving, rebreather diving

The cave and diving community is currently suffering two conflicting emotions – huge anger and deep sorrow. These were two needless and unnecessary deaths. They should not have happened. Eagles Nest has a number of signs above and below water graphically warning of the dangers of diving the site without proper training, equipment and experience. Unfortunately it seems that certain individuals go through life believing that the rules just do not apply to them. Now the family is commenting that the site should be closed to prevent further deaths.

I can understand the family’s grief, but this knee jerk reaction will not make one jot of difference to safety. It will merely restrict access to a quality cave diving site that took a long time to gain. Cave divers in the main are responsible and disciplined. They take their sport very seriously and respect site access. They plan, they are properly equipped, and they are trained. Closing Eagles Nest will not make it safer, because the people likely to break into this site to dive it will be the ones who think the rules don’t count. They will probably be ill-equipped, have little or no relevant training and also end up in a body bag. If the family truly want to make a positive difference to stop unnecessary deaths, perhaps they could campaign to remind divers of the dangers of diving beyond their training and experience.

A little good has already come about as a result of these deaths. In 1997 the cave community wrote and filmed a short documentary called ‘A deceptively easy way to die’ . Because of the Eagles Nest fatalities, this film is once again being watched.

I hope that the double fatality will make open water divers tempted to ‘check out kit’ or ‘just see what is down there’, think twice before entering a cave they are not equipped for. That they will read and respect the signs saying ‘there is nothing in this cave worth dying for’. So pass the message on. Please watch ‘A deceptively easy way to die’. Then share it, and talk about it with new divers and remind them that we are not setting rules to ruin their fun, but to keep them safe so they can enjoy many more Christmas Days.

PADI comment – You might also like to check back to this post for another cave diving safety video. https://tecrec.padi.com/2013/05/22/cave-diving-warning/

Categories: News

13 replies »

  1. Nice Post Roz. The waters of Florida abound with terminal, tragedy inducing stupidity. Unfortunately, stupidity cannot be fixed. I spent a decade cataloging and writing analysis of diving related fatalities, many of them in Florida and it is repetitively true that the continuing themes of “no personal responsibility” and “disregard for the rules” permeates the vast majority of these accidents. Families, usually under the tutelage of lawyers with questionable motivations frequently are led to compound the tragedies by further denying the personal responsibility of the participant(s). This only extends the cost and reach of the tragedy leading to more pain for the family and accomplishes no worthwhile purpose for anyone but the lawyers in most cases. Unfortunately, this particular case is compounded by the death of a minor child operating under the guidance of an adult offender. As tragic as that is, the family must ask if the sign had said “No Diving” instead of “No Diving without Cave and Trimix Certification” would the father have paid more head. I think the answer is a clear and resounding no.

  2. Agree totally, there is no substitute for training and experience. If you want to dive these caves then bide your time. Seek out the right instructors and guides. Unless you come back, whats the point of going in?

  3. Mike – I’ve read your “Diver Down” and always recommend it to students. Your approach is informed and full of common sense advice. Thanks for your interest and advice in diver safety – just as relevant here in the UK as it is across the pond.

  4. I have been a PADI instructor for a few years and did my dry suit course in a muddy hole in the UK with Vikki Batten in 2000 – so I’ve been diving a while. Diving beyond your training and experience isn’t just limited to cave diving. Everywhere you go people lie about their experience just to get in the water. It’s such a shame this accident has happened. I suppose if they’d at least been with an experienced instructor this might not have happened but then I very much doubt an experienced instructor would have have taken these two into the hole anyway. Maybe it’s time to tighten up the rules for all kinds of diving? Wouldn’t that be great, but then less divers means less revenue generated.

    • Hi Graham, Thanks for revealing that we are both getting old :-). Safety is a top priority for most divers, so I believe that educating divers to dive within their certification limits and experience (which PADI do at all levels) and enforcing this will increase the number of divers who want to take up and carry on diving, rather than decrease them. Let’s hope others can learn from this tragic event and avoid making the same errors.

  5. This reminds me of Deon Dreyer who in 1994 died in a cave in South Africa for similar reasons of inadequate experience. This resulted in the death 10 years later of a diver who went to retrieve his remains. Read ‘Raising The Dead’ by Phillip Finch.

  6. Very interesting that a country that allows almost anyone the ability to buy a firearm and encourages people to do so wants to close a dive site cause two people died. How many have died from needlessly form those wielding legaly held guns! would they ban freeways because people die on them.

  7. Thanks for highlighting the importance of adequate training and responsible practise in diving. Like an adrenaline/adventure sport risk management is so vital. I’m terribly sad to hear of such a tragic event.

  8. I too am saddened by this “lack of common sense” tragedy. It’s close to me, as my son dives with me, safely, as a certified diver. I am also a rescue/recovery diver with my county and have experienced sad recoveries for families. There are so many “what if’s” that could have made a difference: what if the son had been trained and certified by a professional BEFORE he was given life safety equipment; what if they had chosen a more benign, safer site to try out his new gear (Florida is loaded with non-cave sites to minimize risk–for beginner divers); what if the dad had truly thought it through before letting excitement cloud safety issues…the list goes on. I grieve for the family, but campaigning to close a recognized (and identified) dangerous site, meant for those properly trained and certified in the first place, is not the answer. Accountability must fall on those who ignore or transgress the rules and guidelines set before them; they are there for a reason! Forcing closures upon those who worked so hard to be prepared for that environment is absurd.

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