After nearly two days and multiple descents into the cold, dark depths of a sinkhole, divers have recovered a car believed to contain the body of an elderly Port Richey man missing since March. A dozen divers using giant air bags floated the car, a white 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, out of the brackish water of Palm Sink in northwest Pasco County.
The divers could not pull the car straight out of the 130-foot-deep hole because the car was upside down under a rocky overhang.
Just before 2 p.m., the divers attached a bag to the car and inflated it. The buoyancy of the bag made the car maneuverable enough so divers could pull it from beneath the overhang.
Then a rope tied to the car was attached to another bag that was inflated on the surface. Divers attached a third bag to the rope 20 feet beneath the surface and inflated it, causing the car to rise 20 feet. They repeated this process until the car was about 10 feet beneath the surface _ three hours later.
The recovery was witnessed by two cave divers, brothers Legare and Stephan Hole of Clearwater, who discovered the Cutlass and a second car while making a practice dive in Palm Sink early Thursday morning.
Asked to describe their discovery and reaction when they found the body, Legare Hole said:
"We were doing our sweep around the (bottom), and we saw the front of the car. We've been in this hole before, about four or five months ago, and there were no cars in there before. So we .
. looked at it, and we saw what appeared to be a hand and a foot and a shoe. It didn't look to be much like a body, but the hand and foot were unmistakable.
"Down there, there's no light whatsoever. It's terribly desolate. And (I was) just thinking what a horrible place it would be to die, never to see light again."
There is still no description of the second car in the sinkhole.
Midway through the process of raising the car, gasoline began leaking from the fuel tank, exposing divers who were not wearing impermeable diving suits to the risk of gasoline poisoning.
Later the divers were hosed down by firefighters to stop the gasoline from seeping through their diving suits and their skin.
They also changed into red environmental-protection suits the gasoline could not penetrate.
About 5 p.m., all three air bags surfaced, indicating the car was about 10 feet from the surface, but it still was not visible from the edge of the sinkhole.
Divers in the small rubber boat pulled the car across the sinkhole to the southeast edge, where a tow truck was standing by to remove the car from the water.
The car, covered by a thin layer of silt, had damage to the passenger-side headlights and was dented on that side. The windshield wipers had been deployed.
The body in the car was removed.
Authorities would not speculate on the occupant's identity, but the license plate removed from the car was registered to an 85-year-old Port Richey man, Fritz Geszti.
Geszti was been described as suffering from periods of disorientation before his disappearance.
Family members said Thursday that the Pasco County Sheriff's Office told them a license plate recovered from the Cutlass showed that the car was registered to Geszti.
But sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers declined to speculate on the identity of the body.