This past week as seen a tragic death at Eagles Nest Cave in North Central Florida. All diving related deaths are regrettable and especially tragic to friends and loved ones as well as their dive buddies. The death this past week of this particular diver is especially disturbing because it need never happened. I say that because this particular dive team was not cave trained!
Apparently, both of these divers were diving CCR (Inspirations) and have neither cave diving certifications or CCR Trimix certifications. Eagles Nest is one of the pinnacle deep cave dives in Cave Country. Most certainly a deep trimix dive and at a location that has claimed several lives over the years, Eagles Nest is often referred to as the Mount Everest of cave diving. It is obviously not a dive to take without serious preparation and without the proper level of training.
According to the latest internet forum wags, both of the divers had recently enrolled in a CCR Normoxic Trimix class that was blown out due to weather. The instructor for some reason decided to move the class to EN to take advantage of a diveable site unaffected by the current tropical storm. The instructor reportedly sent the two students packing after the first dive when he realized they were not yet prepared for that level of diving. Unfortunately, the two divers returned to EN to conduct a dive on their own in an ill advised attempt to explore EN. Reports indicate that they were using diluent mixtures that were inappropriate for the intended depths and that this could have possibly contributed to the tragic result of their dive. You would also have to assume that the overhead environment contributed to basic problem that they experienced. One of the divers bailed out at 200 feet depth and refused assistance from his dive buddy when offered, and thereafter fell unconscious at depth. His buddy was unable to pull him out of the cave and had to leave him at depth in order to ensure his own safe ascent. Very sad indeed.
Bill (Bird) Oestrich and Cotl McCoy were the two primary recovery divers. Unfortunately, these types of deep recoveries as very dangerous for the recovery divers and in this particular case should never have been required! Two divers, untrained and under experienced diving in a serious cave that they should have never been in in the first place let alone by themselves lead to an unnecessary death and one that will continue to affect the diving community, their families and friends for a long time to come.
Hopefully, the tech diving community will learn from this tragic event and instructors will be more diligent in choosing appropriate venues for classes and students will take seriously cautions and training prerequisites for various dives they are contemplating. We are a self regulating industry, and I would hate to see that change due to the actions of a few. I am very sorry for the loss of life, and hope that we can avoid future such loss.