Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Untrained divers have no place in dangerous caves

A sign at Eagle Nest Sink warns that only certified cave divers should enter. Darrin Spivey was a certified scuba diver but had no cave training; his son had no diving certification at all.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

A sign at Eagle Nest Sink warns that only certified cave divers should enter. Darrin Spivey was a certified scuba diver but had no cave training; his son had no diving certification at all.

Cave diving is like skating on a freshly frozen pond. You don't realize you're in trouble until the ice cracks.

Wednesday's tragic deaths of a father and son at a cave system in Hernando County had a familiar ring. Two untrained divers ventured someplace they had no business going and died.

The scenario has played out hundreds of times before, and unfortunately, will likely play out again. The father, Darrin Spivey, was a certified scuba diver, but he had no cave training.

Learning to scuba dive is sort of like getting a driver's license. Sure, you can get behind the wheel of a car, but that doesn't mean you're ready to race in the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

No amount of open-water scuba diving experience can prepare divers for the hazards they will encounter inside a cave. The most obvious danger is a ceiling of rock.

If a scuba diver encounters a problem 30 feet down in the ocean, he can surface. But cave divers don't have that luxury.

Cave divers also must contend with darkness. On land, the night often can be scary and at times dangerous. But underwater, with a ceiling overhead, darkness can be deadly.

Silt, fine particles of sand, mud or clay that coat most cave or cavern floors, easily can be stirred up by an errant flipper and render the most expensive diving light useless in a matter of seconds.

To date, more than 400 people have died diving in caves. Fatalities peaked in the mid '70s, but the numbers began to drop after formal cave training became widely available. The National Speleological Society's Cave Diving Section (NSS-CDS) offers a four-stage training program.

Back in the early '90s, I spent several years going through classes and diving under the supervision of certified instructors in order to write a series of stories about Florida's underwater caves.

I learned that cave divers must carry nearly twice the amount of equipment as normal divers — two tanks, safety lines, lights and computers — backup systems for backup systems. In a cave, you can't count on anybody but yourself.

I also learned that entering a cave is like running the Daytona 500. You might be fine for 499 laps — but lose focus for a second, and you won't make it to the finish line.

Many open-water divers are drawn to caves because they've heard the tales of gin-clear water and massive caverns with white limestone walls. Most take the time to get the proper training before they hit the water.

Those who don't take the time to get formally trained sometimes die. In fact, more than 95 percent of all cave diving deaths involve untrained divers. The remaining 5 percent are trained divers who go deeper than they should.

Cave diving is time- and equipment intensive. It's not a casual sport, and there's no room for weekend warriors.

My instructor once offered me some advice that I remember to this day. "There are old cave divers, and there are bold cave divers," he said. "But there are no old, bold cave divers."

Untrained divers have no place in dangerous caves 12/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday

    Bucs

    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle