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Deaths at Eagles Nest Christmas Day
ScubaCrab - 12/26/2013 6:04 AM
Category: General
Replies: 6

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Drowning shows Eagle Nest Sink underwater caves in Hernando County are dangerous — even to skilled divers

Joel Anderson, Times Staff WriterWednesday, November 4, 2009 2:40amFacebook36EmailShare36Print 23WILL VRAGOVIC | TimesHelge Weber, 43, of Germany prepares to dive Wednesday in the Eagle Nest Sink underwater cave system in Hernando County. WEEKI WACHEE — A few yards before a wooden ramp descends into Eagle Nest Sink, signs warn those who dare submerge themselves in the world-renowned underwater abyss.One large, green sign with white letters — all of them capitalized — advises: "CAVE DIVING IN THIS AREA IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS — EVEN LIFE THREATENING! DO NOT DIVE UNLESS YOU ARE A CERTIFIED CAVE DIVER!!"Still, longtime friends and diving partners James D. Woodall II and Gregory S. Snowden were not intimidated. And that might have cost Woodall his life.


Diver who almost died there eyes return to Eagle Nest Sink More than a Year agoUnderwater cave’s charms fool divers More than a Year agoWeeki Wachee drowning claims expert cave diver working on research team More than a Year agoDip in Pasco sinkhole ends in drowning More than a Year agoMissing cave divers’ bodies found in sinkhole More than a Year ago>Woodall, 39, drowned Tuesday afternoon while diving in the underwater caverns of theChassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. No foul play is suspected.His body was pulled from the water after midnight by a diver with the St. Petersburg Police Department and the owner of a Citrus County diving shop.Deputies said Woodall and Snowden, 34, both of Richmond, Ky., came to Florida for the annual Diving Equipment and Marketing Association show in Orlando. But they also made plans to visit Hernando County for some cave diving.The men were experienced divers but had no cave-diving certification, said Sgt. Donna Black of the Sheriff’s Office.Authorities and diving experts said divers without advanced cave-diving training should not even think of trying Eagle Nest."Once you get in there, you find out it’s a different beast. It’s only for the more experienced divers," said Victor Echaves of theFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which owns the property.Indeed, from the shore, Eagle Nest appears to be an ordinary-looking, algae-covered pond. Below, however, is a mile of passages, one of them more than 300 feet deep. The caves are known in diving circles as the "Grand Canyon" for their stunning views, extreme depth and remote location.The area is several miles from hard roads and difficult to reach without off-road vehicles. The site was closed to divers from 1999 to 2003.According to the Sheriff’s Office, Woodall and Snowden were down about 270 feet and nearly 500 feet inside the caves Tuesday afternoon when Woodall started having problems with his breathing apparatus.Snowden tried to help but Woodall was in an "altered mental state" and pushed him away, according to a report. By the time Snowden was able to steady himself, Woodall had drowned. Snowden surfaced and called for help at 6:01 p.m.Back in Kentucky, friends recalled Woodall developing a love for diving in recent years. A onetime paramedic and owner of a sign shop, he threw himself into his new passion."I don’t think Jim ever did anything a little bit," said Jimmy Cornelison, a friend. "He would tell you that he loved to dive. Period. It was a great pastime for him."Accompanying Woodall on most of his excursions was Snowden, who worked at Woodall’s sign shop in Richmond and was founding member of the Madison County Rescue Squad Dive Team."This isn’t just something they up and did — this is something they did all the time," Cornelison said. "This was a big deal for them."Including Woodall, at least six divers have died at Eagle Nest since 1981. The last deaths came in June 2004, when the caves claimed the lives of Craig Simon of Spring Hill and John Robinson Jr. of St. Petersburg. A year later, Judi Bedard nearly died during a dive there.Regardless, Eagle Nest remains a popular destination for divers around the world.Wednesday, just hours after investigators reopened the area, a handful of divers were heading into the murky waters. They all had heard of Woodall’s death but remained undaunted."It’s a wonderful, silent place like a lot of cave-diving spots in North Florida," said Helge Weber, 43, a public safety diver back in his home of Friedberg, Germany. "This is one of the best places on Earth for relaxing."Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at or (352) 754-6120.Drowning shows Eagle Nest Sink underwater caves in Hernando County are dangerous — even to skilled divers 11/04/09[Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 12:44pm]© 2013 Tampa Bay Times0Important0Inspiring0Sad0Angry0Happy


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UWnewbee - 12/26/2013 3:33 PM
The two divers that died in an accident Wednesday were trying out new equipment received as a Christmas present.

According to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Dillon Sanchez and his father Darrin Spivey were trying out new dive equipment Sanchez had received as a Christmas present. The two went cave diving at the Eagle Nest Sink in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

According to friends, Spivey was a certified diver but not a certified cave diver. Sanchez was not a certified diver.

Spivey’s fiancee, Holly King, contacted authorities after not being able to reach him by phone and driving to the wildlife refuge and locating their car.

The father and son were last seen by a hunter around 11 a.m., officials said. The hunter later told authorities the two were suited up and prepared to dive. The hunter returned around 6:30 p.m. and did not see the divers anywhere. He said the car was still there.

According to authorities, Sanchez’s body was located by underwater recovery divers in about 70 feet of water, and Spivey’s in 127 feet inside the cave. Forensics technicians responded to the scene, took photographs and collected equipment, which will be evaluated at a later time.

The medical examiner took custody of the bodies. No further information has been released about Spivey and Sanchez. The investigation is ongoing.
The system of underwater caves at Eagle Nest Sink is well known for its beauty, as well as danger. The system of caves, which attracts divers from all over the world, has been called an underwater Grand Canyon.

Multiple divers have died there during the past 30 years.

The danger of the caves is described on a sign adjacent to the wooden ramp that leads into the murky water: Cave diving in this area is extremely dangerous - even life threatening. Do not dive unless you are a certified cave diver.

One of the recovery cave divers that recovered the bodies said off camera it looked like the father and son ran out of air.

Sanchez was a student at Hernando High School in Brooksville.
dalehall - 12/27/2013 9:05 AM
3 tragic deaths that could have been easily avoided.
tardmaster - 12/27/2013 9:13 AM
Like I said on Facebook Dale, ONE correct decision might have avoided this tragedy.
UWnewbee - 12/27/2013 6:47 PM
yep i saw that you said that,, and it is true,, to bad the victims didnt see it that way
ScubaCrab - 12/28/2013 6:03 AM


Father, son die in Christmas Weeki Wachee cave diving excursion

By Tony Marrero and Dan DeWitt, Times staff writersThursday, December 26, 2013 7:33amFacebook854EmailShare886Print 26PreviousNext

PreviousNextPreviousNextPreviousNext>Darrin Spivey, 35, and his son, Dillon Sanchez, 15, were found dead Wednesday below the surface of Eagle Nest Sink, located in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Hernando County. OCTAVIO JONES | TimesWEEKI WACHEEDarrin Spivey couldn’t wait to share his love of scuba diving with his son, and Dillon Sanchez was just as eager to explore the dark depths.Sanchez, 15, got new air tanks for Christmas, so he and Spivey headed to Eagle Nest, a notoriously treacherous underwater cave complex in northwestern Hernando County.


After divers die, state plans no changes in cave access 16 Hours AgoDrowning shows Eagle Nest Sink underwater caves in Hernando County are dangerous — even to skilled divers More than a Year agoDiver who almost died there eyes return to Eagle Nest Sink More than a Year agoWeeki Wachee drowning claims expert cave diver working on research team More than a Year agoDiver at Weeki Wachee Springs died of air embolism, authorities conclude More than a Year ago>On Christmas Day, father and son died there.Authorities said Spivey, 35, and Sanchez, both of Brooksville, accidentally drowned. An investigation was under way Thursday to determine what went wrong.Spivey, a Brooksville native and father of three, was a certified diver but did not have a separate certification for cave diving, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Sanchez did not have any certification.Robert Brooks, an experienced cave diver who knew Spivey and helped recover his body, said the drownings appear to be the result of a diver who tried to go beyond what his training and experience allowed."The sad thing is, I told him, ’One night they’re going to call me to come get you,’ " Brooks said.• • •Family members said Spivey and Sanchez had dived at Eagle Nest several times and respected the danger there."The top thing on their minds was safety," said Holly King, Spivey’s fiancee. "They never pushed it. Darrin loved his family and loved his kids and wouldn’t risk anything."A roofer by trade, Spivey started diving about nine years ago. Sanchez, a freshman at Hernando High School who was enrolled in the Junior ROTC program, developed the same passion, said Sylvia Spivey, Darrin’s mother. He spent hours poring over diving manuals with plans to get his certification."He’d found his niche," Sylvia Spivey said. "His dad would put him through drills so he’d know it like the back of his hand."Brooks met Spivey about six months ago."He approached me to be his mentor, and I told him I couldn’t take him caving until he got his cave card," Brooks said.He said he loaned Spivey some equipment and urged him to take a course to get certified, but he kept putting it off.Eagle Nest is in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, a few miles north of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Below the surface of a pond is a mile of passages, one of them more than 300 feet deep. The caves are known in diving circles as the "Grand Canyon" for their stunning views, extreme depth and remote location.Before Wednesday, at least six divers had died there since 1981, the most recent in 2009. The site was closed to divers from 1999 to 2003. A large green sign posted at the sink warns of the danger.Spivey tried to reassure Brooks that he was staying in Eagle Nest’s entrance room — a large cavern known as the Ballroom that reaches depths of about 200 feet — and not heading into the narrower tunnels. The Ballroom is still a dangerous place for a diver who hasn’t had professional cave training, Brooks said.King called the Sheriff’s Office about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Brooks got word of the missing divers and called two other certified cave divers to help with the search.One of the divers found Sanchez’s body floating against the ceiling of the Ballroom at a depth of 67 feet. Spivey’s body was found on a large mound on the Ballroom floor, at a depth of 127 feet.Brooks said their dive computers and air gauges indicated both had descended to 233 feet and that they had run out of air — Sanchez first, apparently, because his father had deployed a long breathing hose that allowed his son to breath from his tank.Brooks speculated that they were racing to get back to their spare "safe" tanks placed at about 130 feet and nearly made it. Spivey’s body came to rest next to those tanks.That didn’t mean they would have been home free.Because of the depth they’d reached, the pair would have needed about an hour to decompress, rising slowly enough so the air didn’t form bubbles in their blood. They didn’t appear to have adequate air in their tanks for that process, Brooks said.Also, diving to that depth requires a mixture in which helium replaces some of the nitrogen in the air. That helps minimize the narcotic effect of nitrogen that gets stronger at depths beyond about 100 feet. Brooks said Spivey and his son were using simple compressed air.• • •Spivey’s family says it’s premature to draw any conclusions until the investigation is complete.They acknowledge that Spivey has made some mistakes in his life. In the late 1990s, he was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior on a child. The girl was 14, Spivey was four years older, and the sex was consensual, Sylvia Spivey said. The girl got pregnant and had Sanchez. Spivey was required to register as a sexual offender.In 2010, he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a wreck involving death after he hit a bicyclist with his truck in Brooksville. He served two years in prison and was released in October 2012.Despite these setbacks, Spivey raised Sanchez and was a good father to his other children, Alexis, 16, and Derek, 8, his family said."He’s made some bad choices," Sylvia Spivey said, "but he didn’t run from his responsibilities as a dad."Brooks said it was clear Spivey had taken great care in setting up the equipment they had on hand Wednesday, but their lack of experience and proper gear in a place like Eagle Nest proved fatal."They were pretty much doomed from the start," he said.News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files. Tony Marrero can be reached at or (352) 848-1431. Follow him on Twitter@tmarrerotimes.Father, son die in Christmas Weeki Wachee cave diving excursion 12/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 11:28pm]© 2013 Tampa Bay
tardmaster - 12/30/2013 6:59 PM
As usual, SEVERAL bad decisions lead to this sad, sad and tragic accident. ONE correct decision might have avoided this whole calamity. Dive your training people. However adventurous you are, cockiness can get killed !!!