Two men died while cave diving in Florida from possible drowning in an area known for its hazardous conditions, police said Thursday.
Police arrived at Buford Springs Cave in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Park about 60 miles from Tampa at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday after a group of teens called 911. They saw a diver floating face down and found him unresponsive after initially thinking he was looking down in the water for his diving partner, according to a news release by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies arrived and lifted the diver onto a dock, but he was "obviously deceased," the sheriff's office said. Authorities then dispatched members of the International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery team to search for a second diver, whose body was found 137 feet below the surface.
The men were identified as Todd Richard McKenna, 52, and Stephen Roderick Gambrell, 63.
A pair of 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old told the sheriff's deputies that they spoke with the two men around 11 a.m. before the men dove below the water. After the men resurfaced, the teens said they heard them talking about going back down into the "cave" and discussing whether they had enough air in their tanks.
One diver mentioned he had a leak in his tank, the juveniles told police. After the two men went back down into the water, one of them eventually surfaced floating face down.
The teens thought he was searching for the other diver but then noticed no bubbles were coming to the surface, so they swam out to him and found him unresponsive, according to police. They pulled him to the dock but could not get him out of the water until deputies arrived and assisted.
The sheriff's office is investigating the cause of death after finding that neither diver had any obvious signs of trauma and both had "appropriate diving equipment." Both victims have been turned over to the medical examiner.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission calls cave diving "one of the world's most deadly sports" in a guide to the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. The organization notes that Buford Spring is a 167-foot descent that has "claimed lives" due to "hazardous conditions" that include a lack of light, distance from the surface and the need for specialized equipment.
"Even experienced cave divers have perished here," the commission wrote.