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.
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.
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. http://tecrec.padi.com/2013/05/22/cave-diving-warning/