A FATHER and his 15-year-old son died while they were testing new diving equipment they received as Christmas presents.
The bodies of Darrin Spivey, 35, and his son Dillon Sanchez were found on Christmas night in an underwater cave they were exploring in Hernando County, Florida, according to the Tampa Tribune.
The newspaper said the pair arrived at the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge around 11am on Wednesday to dive into the 300-foot (91-metre) Eagles Nest Sink – a deceivingly complex cave system which was not recommended for novices.
Spivey’s fiancé Holly King first became concerned that afternoon, when the two had failed to return and she couldn’t reach Spivey on his mobile phone.
Ms King drove herself to the dive site and found their empty car. She alerted the authorities around 7pm.
Recovery divers began searching the waters an hour later and found both bodies by midnight. Sanchez’s body was discovered just inside the cave at 67 feet and his father’s further at 127 feet.
“It was very unfortunate,” Assistant Hernando County Fire Chief Kevin Carroll told the Tribune. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends.”
Spivey, a father of three, was a certified diver but did not have a separate certification for cave diving, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Sanchez did not have any certification.
Robert Brooks, an experienced cave diver who knew Spivey and helped recover his body, said the older diver appeared to go beyond what his training and experience allowed.
“The sad thing is, I told him, ‘One night they’re going to call me to come get you,'” Mr Brooks said.
While there are warning signs at Eagles Nest Sink – above ground and underwater – telling inexperienced divers not to dive, nobody checks certification at the popular, publically-accessible site.
“Without proper training, this is a very dangerous place to go,” said Becky Kagan Schott, who has explored Eagles Nest Sink dozens of times.
Ms Schott said what appears to be a secluded pond is actually a cone that leads to an enormous cave system, including what she calls the “grand ballroom,” with linear routes shooting off thousands of feet in several directions.
The diving attraction, described by Ms Schott as a “merit badge” for the diving community, has claimed at least eight lives since 1981.
The last fatal accident was in November 2009, when an uncertified cave diver lost control of his breathing gear and drowned near the entrance of the cave.