One day three divers decided to go on a cave diving trip. All three were certified full cave divers. Two of them had been cave diving for four years and were regular dive buddies, both in open water and in caves. They were very familiar with each other’s habits and dive styles. The third diver had not dove as much as the other two and had not been cave diving for a while. Yet, he was still very comfortable in the water. They agreed to meet in Florida and chose the site they wanted to dive. When they arrived, they were anxious to start their adventure.
    The original dive site chosen was too milky to dive safely so an alternate site was decided upon. It was not far away, and the local dive shop said it had the best visibility in the area at the time. The system was well-known to the two divers who were regular buddies but was completely new to the third member of the team.
    The agreed-upon dive day was hot, drizzly, and muggy. The team met two other divers who were taking their cave class that day. These divers told them they were going to put a gap reel from the main line to the jump which the other team needed to take and would be leaving it there for the next day. Since there would already be a reel in place, there would be no need for the second team to lay one there.
    As the team geared up, they reviewed the dive plan. They had decided to do a circuit that was about 1700 feet long. It would include two blind jumps, something with which everyone on the team felt comfortable. It was agreed that they would use the reel left in place by the other dive team at one of the required jumps. The team planned to have one diver put a line in at the entry point and another diver place a line at the exit point. This was to be done prior to commencement of the actual dive.
    The two preparatory lines were laid with no problem, and the dive team assembled at the surface to begin the circuit dive. Due to there being a new member of the dive team, the group decided to place this diver in the middle while the two more experienced divers took the lead and rear positions. The team embarked on a dive that would turn into one filled with stress, fear, and helplessness.
    The first 1000 feet of the dive went as planned except that the water was cloudy and the visibility was not what the team had expected. This factor changed the dive. When the team got to the first jump point, the lead diver and the middle diver incorrectly followed the Pothole line upwards. They realized that they had taken a wrong path so they descended back to the main tunnel. At that point the lead diver recognized the spot, and he stopped the team to hook up his gap line and search for the jump connection at the other side. The gap between lines at that spot is about 20 feet across. When the lead diver found the jump connection, he decided to leave the gap reel in place because of the low visibility.
    The team dove the circuit and reached the exit point without further problems. The rear diver retrieved the reel he had placed at the beginning of the dive. That left two other reels in the cave that had to be retrieved, requiring that the team swim in another 500 feet. They were still diving in the original order, but there was more distance between the lead diver and the middle diver at this point.
    When the team reached the gap reel, the lead diver swam over to retrieve it. The middle diver swam up the line as before, and the rear diver remained on the main line as protocol would dictate. He watched the middle diver swim further up the line like the team had done on the original circuit dive. The lead diver appeared to think that the middle diver was just moving out of the way to make it easier for him (the lead diver) to retrieve the gap reel.
    After the lead diver had wound up the reel and was trying to remove it from the main line, the rear diver noticed that it was tangled and went to assist the lead diver. Both divers became focused on the reel, assuming that the middle diver was nearby just waiting. After the rear diver untangled the reel, he returned it to the lead diver. The lead diver stowed the reel and swam off towards the exit, not verifying if the other members of the team were all present and ready to exit.
    The rear diver noticed that the middle diver was nowhere in sight and remembered having seen him swimming further up the line. He swam in that direction to find the middle diver but did not encounter him. The rear diver then signaled to the lead diver to let him know there was a problem, but the lead diver did not respond. The rear diver checked his pressure gauge at that point and did a brief search of the nearby area for the missing middle diver. He had no luck.
    The rear diver then swam towards the exit and encountered the lead diver who had finally stopped to wait for him. When the lead diver saw the rear diver approaching, he swam off again without waiting to exchange signals. The rear diver was very frustrated by this time. He checked his air pressure and then chose to go on to the exit with the lead diver, hoping that the middle diver might be there by some chance. However, when the two divers arrived at the exit point, the middle diver was not there either.
    Both divers had a decompression stop to make so they began this procedure. The rear diver took this time to use his dive slate to ask the lead diver where the other team member was. The lead diver then realized that the middle diver was missing. After completing the decompression stop, the two divers surfaced, fearing the worst. The rear diver noticed that the middle diver’s deco bottle was still in the water, and he retrieved it on the way out. At the surface the lead diver asked the rear diver when he had last seen the missing team member. The rear diver replied that it was at the time they were picking up the gap reel. The lead diver stated that he had not realized the middle diver was with them at that point. He had assumed that only he and the rear diver had returned to retrieve the reel.
    All the way to the car the two divers yelled the name of their missing partner. They hoped he might have bailed out at the Pothole exit. It would have been hard but not impossible. The rear diver took off his equipment and ran to that exit spot to check, but the missing diver wasn’t there. On the way back to the car, he met the lead diver headed his way and shouting for a telephone so he could call 911. The lead diver called the police, and the rear diver put his gear back on. He asked the lead diver to get a stage bottle ready while he put his gear back on, stating that he would be OK on air for now to go back in the water to search for the missing diver. He wanted to have the stage bottle ready in case he needed it later.
    By that time 10-15 minutes had passed. The lead diver called out the missing diver’s name again, and this time the two divers heard someone reply, “What?” Both divers yelled again, and again a peaceful but louder “What?” answered their call. The missing diver appeared around a bend in the road. The other two divers explained what they had done, and the missing diver didn’t believe they had actually called the police until the squad car arrived.
    Luck was on the side of the missing diver, and relief was written on all the divers’ faces.

Part 3 of 3

    The following is my (Diver 2) account of a cave dive at Peacock Springs. Mistakes were made and important lessons learned and it is hoped that by compiling the accounts of all three divers, a more vivid picture can be obtained.

Diver 1 and diver 3 were both more experienced in the Peacock system. Although I had done some training dives for intro-cave certification at that site, my experience was limited. Upon review, it can be said that my lack of a detailed mental map of the circuit dive to be undertaken was the fundamental flaw in my preparation that led to the series of errors on my part.

    The dive began with diver 1 and diver 3 placing guidelines in what seemed like less than optimal (20 – 50ft) post flood visibility. Diver 1 led the team followed by myself (diver 2) and diver 3 in the rear. The dive progressed uneventfully – although all three members later expressed disappointment with the visibility. When the team reached ambient light from the Peacock sink entrance, diver 1 indicated the vertical shaft exit. Lacking an adequate grasp of the dive plan, I followed diver 1 back into the system to retrieve the line at pot hole. When the team reached Pot hole sink, diver 1 indicated the vertical shaft. Again, lacking an adequate grasp of the dive plan, I began a slow ascent up the shaft for a “look see”. My turn around in the tight confines of the shaft took considerable time and when I returned down the shaft I saw no other team member and no other lights. I was definitely confused and now had no confidence that I understood the dive plan. I began a quick search for a guideline and in very little time I found a line. My gas was still well above thirds, and now lacking any real plan, I assumed my fellow divers had followed that line. I continued on that line for what turned out to be about 800ft until I could see ambient light from turned out to be Olsen sink. After this solo foray, I had still not located the other team members, and I was now acutely aware that they had most definitely not followed another line and were no doubt assuming the worst about my fate. I completed a safety stop and exited from Olsen sink where I had to climb a hill wearing double 95’s and walk back to the lot to re-unite with some very anxious team members

The lessons learned were many but really boiled down to one major theme: inadequate communications. During the pre-dive briefing, I should have requested a map or other visual aid to better assimilate the dive plan and the circuit we were to make. During the dive, there was also a lapse of proper use of hand and light signals by all members of the team.

While I, was at no time in fear for my safety, considerable anxiety was felt about the stress I was sure the other team members were experiencing. I am certain that all three members of the team will carry these lessons into future dives.

The next installment will be an anlysis of the dive.