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February 14, 2007 - Allen Mill Pond, Lafayette County, FL
Date of Fatality: February 14, 2007
Date of Recovery: February 15, 2007
Deceased: 53 year old, male
Location: Allen Mill Pond, Lafayette County, Florida
Total Mapped Area of Cave: 2524 feet (mapped by deceased)
Character of Cave: Very small, sidemount, silty, two main maze-like conduits
Depth of Cave: Maximum depth 46 feet at back of cave but most tunnels less than thirty feet deep.
Diver’s Log: Indicated 43 previous exploration dives in system over several years.
Report compiled and submitted by Jill Heinerth and Jerry Murphy.
Victim was visiting North Florida on a cave diving exploration vacation. On the evening of February 14, 2007, Victim failed to return from solo diving activities. On the evening of February 14, Wes Skiles called local law enforcement to check locations for the vehicle of the deceased. Lafayette County Sheriffs were dispatched to Allen Mill Pond but did not locate the vehicle.
At 10:50, February 15, 2007 Wes Skiles and Jill Heinerth located the Victim’s vehicle in a wooded area beside a spring vent know to Skiles. Skiles immediately called Lafayette County Sheriffs who responded to the scene.
11:20 Florida Fish and Wildlife officers arrived on scene.
11:27 Lafayette County Sheriff are guided to scene by Heinerth from main road.
Due to the extraordinary conditions in the cave known to Wes Skiles (very restrictive and silty), a team of specialized sidemount recovery divers were called to assist at the scene. Since many of the logical choices for the recovery effort were close friends of the Victim, special efforts were made to organize a slow and thoughtful recovery process.
Victim was a cartographer and surveyor, and as such kept detailed logs and maps of every exploration dive. Maps and logs were secured, reviewed and organized so that the search efforts could be focused on logical locations within the cave,
Due to the very small size and difficult conditions within the cave, it was decided that a solo reconnaissance dive should be conducted by Mark Long to assess conditions and review guidelines that were all carefully marked with a lettered survey code.
14:20 Gerald Murphy arrives at site.
14:47 Mark Long arrives at site.
15:05 Mike and Sandra Poucher arrive at site.
15:36 Tom Morris arrives on site.
15:55 Mark Long began his recon dive using 2 steel 72 cft tanks each filled to 3000 psi in a sidemount configuration.
16:43 Pete Butt and Georgia Shemitz arrived on site with food, drink and warm clothes for the team.
16:49 Mark Long returned from first dive, without finding any evidence of Victims passage, after penetrating approximately 650 feet at “letter T” on the map. He turned his dive at 29 minutes, calling the dive on safety concerns, not wishing to penetrate further. His maximum depth was 28 feet.
After close examination of Victims’ maps, it was determined that in the maze-like nature of this cave Mark had gone into a different tunnel than Victim had indicated he was going to survey. Mark, still having an adequate air supply, volunteered to swim to a junction region close to the entrance and try to determine a route into a different vein of the mapped cave. Line arrows were used by Long to mark areas that he had carefully searched.
Since this cave was an exploration in progress (the victim had completed 43 survey dives in the location over several years), it should be noted that maze-like passages meant that many lines were present.
17:06 Mark Long began second dive to try to mark a route for a follow-up diver.
17:48 Mark Long surfaced with the body of Victim. Long reported that he placed a 2-foot jump at a junction room close to the surface and reached Victim approximately 300 feet from the exit of the cave. Long reported finding the diver in swimming position that looked like he was “sprinting for the surface.” The victim was found with a homemade line-cutting knife in his right hand and approximately 12 feet of line from his exploration reel (which was clipped to the diver) snagged in a fin buckle. All other gear was intact and organized. A regulator was present in the diver’s mouth. The regulator on the second tank was trailing. The right fin buckle was unclipped and Long re-secured it and the regulators for exit from the cave. The body was in full rigor.
Long recovered the body to the surface unaided. The exploration reel was unclipped from the diver and secured to the main guideline at the point of recovery. Long left his notebook with the reel and the clenched line-cutter was dropped from Victims’ hand during exit. All other gear remained as found.
Around 17:50 Beth Murphy arrived with food and drinks for crew.
18:19 Mike Poucher entered the cave to retrieve the exploration reel, line cutter and Long’s notebook.
18:49 Poucher returns with exploration reel, knife and notebook and the gap reel which was used to reach the tunnel where the deceased was located.
It is not known if a continuous guideline was laid to the surface by the deceased. The complex nature of the cave means that Long may have reached the deceased by a different route, and many other Ts and guidelines were noted by Poucher on his dive. Poucher counted survey knots to determine that the deceased was indeed 300 feet from the cave entrance. Poucher also noted that 12 feet of line was unspooled from the exploration reel. The reel was missing most of its line, which was likely deployed by the deceased during exploration activities on the dive. The missing line is estimated to be between 300-400 feet of #36 guideline.
Gear of the Deceased
Helmet: Green helmet, back-up light on right side operational and in off position. Home made primary light clipped to left helmet was depleted but struck briefly for functional testing.
Harness/Wings: Black wing integrated into a home-built harness system. Harness system had metal spine plate with a small lead weight integrated just above kidney region. Wing was holding air and positive buoyancy was possible. Lower back left and right wing showed “shredding-type” damage, but inner bladder was intact. Damage appeared to be dated as opposed to fresh. Tape covered the upper inflator mechanism apparently as wear protection. Long did not add air to the BCD on exit and functional tests at surface determined that gear operated properly.
Tanks: 2 steel 60 cft tanks rated at high pressure of 3000 psi. One PVC silt screw on each tank carefully tucked under innertube. Both tanks neatly organized and labeled with EAN 27 on red tape at tank crown. Poseidon upright DIN valves both in “ON” position (see below: regulators). Both tanks found empty.
Regulators: Left tank contained a Sherwood Brut with orange second stage and Uwatec pressure gauge. The left tank valve was backed slightly from the full “ON” position.
Right tank held Poseidon first stage, black Sherwood Brut second stage, Cochran pressure gauge and low-pressure inflator hose. The right tank was in the full “ON” position.
Each second stage had a brass clip on surgical tubing for securing to the harness.
Mask: Scubapro black skirted mask in place on diver’s face. 2 optical lenses in lower third of mask. Very small amount of water (teaspoon) in mask.
Computer: Dive Rite Nitek 3 and Uwatec bottom time on homemade wrist slate with knife sheath on left wrist of diver. Nitek 3 flashing “locked up.” Bottom timer indicated maximum depth of 40 feet. Knife was deployed from blue knife sheath. Computer and bottom timer were covered with wire guards. Wrist slate and computers released by Lafayette County Sheriff to Gerald Murphy from Dive Rite who will attempt to download all pertinent dive data. Initial attempts to review the data on the Nitek 3 computer indicated that the dive commenced at 13:14 on February 14, 2007 and that a maximum depth of 46 feet of fresh water was reached.
Survey Slate: Approximately 8.5 x 11 inch survey slate clipped flat on diver’s chest. Slate held extremely detailed map of 238 feet of passage surveyed during the dive. The map and survey numbers were on translucent drafting paper and held in place with small bulldog clips. Survey indicates the diver was at the end of the previously surveyed passage at roughly 1200 feet of penetration. The map and survey notes indicate: “sticky white clay, no vis, no flow.” Other notes on the sketch said, “tight” and “silt.” Maximum depth on the survey indicates 40 feet. The survey began at marker “VC” and included 6 stations.
Accessory Bag: Orange accessory tool bag clipped on waist. Blue, back-up knife sheath on outside of bag with knife, which was not deployed. Inside the bag was an underwater compass, pencil and back-up survey slate which did not carry any data.
Wetsuit: 2 piece 5-7mm black neoprene suit with hood. Blue kneepads with active diving damage. Blue stripe on arms and sides.
Fins: Green Reeflex fins with modified buckles screwed together. Black rubber fin straps. With tabs cropped short to buckles.
Analysis: Detailed maps and dive logs made by the victim allowed the recovery team to conduct a very safe and methodical search and recovery.
Review of the log describes a dive conducted on January 1, 2007 to the same area of the cave. On this dive, the deceased described that he wished to return to complete the missing survey points, which were aborted due to poor conditions. On the January 1st dive, the diver reported that poor conditions delayed his exit and he reached the surface with only 1000 psi of a 6500 psi start. The dive conducted on February 14, 2007 likely involved a deeper penetration as evidenced by the exploration reel.
High Springs, FL
Lake City, FL
[approved by Regional Coordinator]