For Brad and Lee, there was no greater
thrill than finding new passageways in underwater cave systems — especially
networks they had explored before. The idea that more people have been on the
surface of the moon than in some of the caves they visited kept them going. It
was all about the thrill of discovery.
When Brad noticed a small corridor leading
off the main cave system, he signaled to Lee that they should check it out. She
immediately agreed. They didn’t let the other buddy team on the dive know they
were taking off; they planned to be gone from the main line for only a minute.
They just wanted to take a quick look so they could return later to map it for
After looking around for a few minutes and
confirming they had found a cave neither had ever seen before, Brad signaled
that they should return to find the other dive team. They turned around, heading
back the way they came, but never found the main cave or the line the other
divers had laid down.
Brad and Lee were husband and wife. They
found that their long relationship aided in their cave explorations, helping
them to anticipate each other’s moves before they happened.
Both were experienced cave divers who had
similar goals when it came to exploration. Brad was a cave-diving instructor
and typically led the way, but Lee was never far behind him. They were in their
mid-40s with no health issues to speak of.
Brad and Lee joined a second pair of divers
to explore a cave system all four of them knew well. Even though they had dived
the site many times,
Brad and Lee never stopped looking around
for new offshoot caves. Most of the time, they didn’t see much. New passages
would go only a few feet before closing off to nothing, but it didn’t keep them
Both divers on the other team had been
certified for cave diving by Brad, so he knew their skills and was comfortable
with them. As a group, they agreed that the two less-experienced divers would
lead, laying out the cave reel and controlling the dive. A cave reel is a
strong, thin line attached outside — or just inside — a cave opening that
divers use to find their way back to the surface. In general, divers know to
never leave the reel without tying another line to it so they don’t get lost in
When crafting a dive plan, cave divers
determine their bottom time using the Rule of Thirds: allocating one third of
their air for cave penetration, one third for the return to the surface, and
the remaining one third for contingencies — though some prefer having even
greater reserves. Brad and Lee agreed that when any member of the dive pair hit
the Rule of Thirds and determined it was time to exit the cave circuit, they
would all four begin making their way toward the surface.
Recent rains had churned up the water
somewhat, fouling the visibility, but they all agreed that the conditions would
make the dive more interesting.
The foursome entered the freshwater spring
and made their way to the cave-system entrance. The lead diver secured his line
outside the cave and confirmed that everyone was ready to enter before he moved
forward. His buddy went second, followed by Brad. Lee entered the circuit last.
Visibility was worse than expected, but
they still moved forward. Brad often said, “Any day diving is a good day,” so
none of them considered aborting the dive at that point.
To keep from interfering with the first
team, Brad and Lee held back a bit. When one of them noticed a small opening
off to one side of the corridor, they decided to check it out. Both divers were
carrying cave reels of their own, but neither pulled them out to secure a jump
line to the one their friends had laid.
There is no way to know what happened next,
but when the first buddy team turned the dive and began heading toward the
surface, they realized Brad and Lee were no longer following them. They assumed
there had been a problem and that Brad and Lee aborted the dive, so they
continued reeling in their line as they left the cave. It was only after they
returned to the surface that they realized Brad and Lee were missing. They knew
the divers were still in the cave somewhere.
Brad and Lee’s bodies were later recovered
250 feet from the cave entrance. Both divers had completely exhausted their air
Brad and Lee broke a cardinal rule of cave
diving, one they both knew very well: Never leave the main line without
attaching a jump line to it to ensure that you can find your way back out. The
couple let their own familiarity with the cave system override their
decision-making, and that got them in trouble.
If Brad and Lee had tied off a jump line,
they could have easily followed it back to catch up with the other divers. And
if Brad and Lee were still in the offshoot when their friends came back, the
line would show the other divers that they were still underwater. Then the
other team could have waited, or left the primary cave line in place.
Cave divers typically do not leave cave
lines tied off in an effort to keep untrained divers from following them. The
first dive team could have left a slate where they found the jump line tied off
to say they had exited and to ask Brad to bring the reel to the surface. None
of that happened.
There is an important lesson to learn from
this dive accident, even for noncave divers. Brad and Lee were overconfident
and chose to break the rules, rules Brad taught to all of his students. Too
often, experienced divers and instructors believe they can rely on their
experience to solve a problem that never should have come up in the first
There are no “diving police” to catch you
if you violate any rule of diving. Often, people can take risks and violate
safety rules and make it back to the surface without a problem — that is, until
the one time things don’t go their way.
Don’t take shortcuts or fail to prepare for
the diving environment. Underwater is an unforgiving place, and the moment you
don’t take it seriously, you are at risk. Watching your pressure gauge drop to
zero is no way to spend the last few minutes of your life.
1 Get Proper Training and Equipment Diving
in any overhead environment is a sure way to get in trouble if you don’t know
what you’re doing.
2 Follow the Rules Safety rules in scuba
diving were often created based on other people’s mistakes. Learn from that.
3 Protect Yourself There is nothing
underwater worth dying for. Follow the safety rules and live to dive another
Eric Douglas co-authored the book *Scuba
Diving Safety, and has written a series of adventure novels, children’s books,
and short stories — all with an ocean and scuba-diving theme. Check out his
website at booksbyeric.com.