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Sheriff: Spiegel Grove Divers Had No Plan, Lacked Proper Equipment, Didn't Bring Enough Air Supply

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KEY LARGO, Florida -- Monroe County Sheriff's Detectives are continuing their investigating of the deaths of three divers who entered the wreck of the Spiegal Grove Friday and never came out.

Lead Detective Mark Coleman says he has discovered some reasons why this terrible tragedy may have occurred, besides the fact that the men were diving in an area of the ship not intended for such forays.

According to Detective Coleman:

  • The men, all experienced divers, did not have a dive plan. A dive plan, he says, is crucial in order to make sure all participants in the dive know what to expect, and to make sure the divers are properly prepared for the coming dive.
  • The men had no dive reels with them to show them the way out of the wreck. Dive reels are spools of line which are attached at the entrance to the dive. The divers let out line as they progress and, thus, are able to find their way out again.
  • The men did not take enough dive tanks with them to complete the dive. Normally, according to Detective Coleman, divers planning an extensive penetration dive such as this one take down "stage tanks" which are staged all along the dive route so they have new tanks when they run low on air. These divers had several stage tanks with them, but they were staged much higher in the vessel, and closer to the entrance, than their bodies were found. They only carried single tanks with them. Had they had a safety line, they may have been able to find their way back to the tanks.
  • Detective Coleman said when he interviewed Howard Spralter, the lone survivor of the group, he admitted they did not take all the safety precautions they should have to complete the dive.

    "The divers who went in to recover the bodies said this portion of the ship has large amounts of silt built up inside," said Detective Coleman. "It doesn't take very much movement to kick that silt up and cause problems with your ability to see. Without a line to follow out, and with lots of silt in the water, it would have been virtually impossible for them to find their way out of the wreck," he said.

    The Spiegel Grove is a popular dive spot off of Key Largo. The upper portions of the ship have many areas that have been prepared specifically for penetration dives with holes cut for ingress and egress, and markings on the walls showing clearly which ways to go. The portion of the ship these divers were in were lower down, where all the entrances were sealed to prevent entrance. It is unknown how the entrance they used was opened, but it was not intended for use as an entrance to the wreck.

    The men's bodies have been transported to Key West and autopsies will be performed to determine the cause of their deaths. Assisting in the body recovery today was Key Largo Fire/Rescue, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the United States Coast Guard.

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