Diver’s body found inside ’Grove’
Monroe County dive team members located the body of a missing diver from
Orlando who was last seen deep inside the USS Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot
Navy ship that was intentionally sunk in 2002 as an artificial reef about
six miles off the coast of Key Largo.
The missing diver was identified by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office as
Joseph Dragojevich, 43, a captain with the Lake County Emergency Medical Services.
Deputy Becky Herrin, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said divers found
Dragojevich’s body inside the ship at around 1:30 p.m. Friday. But they
have not retrieved the body, nor have they positively identified it. The
retrieval process could take hours, Herrin said.
Dragojevich’s body will be taken to the county Medical Examiner’s Office
for an autopsy after it is recovered.
Dragojedich was diving Thursday afternoon with his friend, James Dorminy, 51,
of Kissimmee on a commerical charter boat owned by the Scuba-Do Dive Company
based in Key Largo. There were six other divers on the boat, but only Dragojevich
and Dorminy were conducting a “penetration dive” inside the wreck on their
own with no guide from the dive company.
In 2007, three experienced divers from New Jersey perished inside the Spiegel
Grove while also doing a penetration dive with the Scuba-Do. The dive company
has been in business since 1986, according to its website.
About 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Dorminy reported Dragojevich missing to the crew of
Scuba-Do. The captain of the boat notified the Coast Guard, which launched a
search with a boat crew from Islamorada and an air crew from Miami. The Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also launched a search by boat, but
the missing diver was not found at the surface.
Dorminy told two officers with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that he and
his friend had attached a reel line before they entered the mammoth ship, which
below is a maze of dark, narrow passageways and claustrophobic rooms not meant
to be penetrated by divers because of the danger.
The real line was supposed to guide the divers to find their way back out of
Dorminy told the officers that the men explored several levels of the ship,
which rests at 130 feet, before beginning their exit. Dorminy was in the lead,
with his friend reeling in the line behind him.
Dorminy said he last saw Dragojevich behind him, signaling with his dive light
that he was okay. When Dorminy looked back again, Dragojevich had disappeared
and the line was slack.
Dorminy said he swam back to find the line tangled. He searched for as long as
he could for Dragojevich before being forced to surface with his air running low.
Gerald Smith, executive director with Lake EMS, said Dragojevich had been with
the department for 15 years and was a district chief. “He goes way back,”
Deputy Chief Ralph Habermehl said.
Dragojevich had a girlfriend and two adult children with an ex-wife.
The Friday underwater search was conducted by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Dive Team and the Water Emergency Team of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department