Eagle’s Nest is a deep, 94m (310ft) sink cave in Florida, USA.
It is unofficially regarded in the cave diving community as "a very advanced dive". The minimum qualification to dive this site is a Full Cave certification, a Trimix ticket and the diver should have appropriate experience with deep cave dives.
To date, 11 divers have died exploring Eagles Nest.
1 December 1981: Terri Collins, Jim Bentz
3 August 1990: Brent Potts
4 June 2004: John Robinson, Craig Simon
6 November 2009: James Woodall II
25 December 2013: Darren and Dillon Spivey
15 October 2016: Patrick Peacock and Chris Rittenmeyer
8 January 2017: Charles Odom
The Christmas Day fatal dive by the father and son made international headlines. The father was not a diving instructor, the son had no scuba training, and neither of them had cave diving training.
Closing Eagles Nest will not make it safer, because people are likely to break into this site to dive it.
Earlier this year, in February, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) convened a meeting to discuss maintaining access to Eagles Nest, and other sites on the Chassahowitzka WMA tract (Buford, etc). Representatives of the NSS-CDS (TJ Mueller, Ken Sallot, Jonathan Bernot), Karst Underwater Research (Brett Hemphill, Matt Vinzant), IANTD, PADI, SDI / TDI, DAN, NACD (Rick Murcar), and the IUCRR (Ken Hill) attended this meeting.
Ken Sallot advised that during the meeting attendees were asked to suggest new guidelines that would allow qualified divers to continue to enjoy the sites on WMA property. The attendees recommended that Eagles Nest is considered an advanced deep cave site, and therefore should only be dived by those with proper training and experience.
The meeting was convened because there has been some lobbying to close Eagles Nest because of the cave diving deaths. Closing the site will not make the site any safer, and in fact, it could make it more dangerous because untrained people will break in to dive the site. There are plenty of warning signs above and below water yet Spivey Snr and Jnr ignored these signs and died.
Let's compare closing Eagles Nest down with an every day scenario. No one has sought to lobby to close Interstate 95, yet the 382 mile stretch of highway through Florida is one of the most dangerous road in the United States. It has a high rate of fatal accidents. Between 2004 and 2008, there were 1.73 fatal accidents per mile in Florida. If the authorities took the decision that this road is obviously dangerous and ought to be closed, the general public would consider this to be a bonkers decision. The same thinking ought to be applied to Eagles Nest. Several safe dives are conducted on this site each year.
Cave divers in the main are responsible and disciplined. They take their sport very seriously and respect site access. They plan, they are properly equipped, and they are trained.
Ken Sallot has now reported that earlier this week the FWC Commission approved a major rule change to the Chassahowitzka WMA. As part of the change, divers will need to complete a no-cost electronic registration that acknowledges that the diver is aware of the risks involved in diving a deep cave system, and that they need to have the appropriate training and experience to dive the site.
It is believed that it will take several months before the electronic registration system is in place, but this no-cost simple registration will allow qualified individuals to continue to enjoy diving at Eagles Nest. It is worth pointing out that access to cave systems can often be tricky. Thanks to the combined effort and cooperation of the training agencies and organisations mentioned above, it looks as though access to Eagles Nest will be maintained.
The majority of these fatalities involved divers who did not have a Full Cave certification, nor a Trimix ticket and appropriate experience with deep cave dives.
Terri Collins, Jim Bentz
Terri Collins (29) of Gainesville went into Eagles Nest with her husband. She dived to 80m (265ft) breathing air (21%). It is believed she likely experienced nitrogen narcosis. The couple were deep inside a tunnel when he asked her if she was okay using a hand signal. She responded yes. She was holding on his leg during the whole trip. Seconds after giving the okay signal though, she let go of him. He turned back and saw the regulator out of her mouth. He tried to shove it back in and found her unconscious. The husband swam for help at some point losing sight of her. He came up to 21m (70ft) and found Jim Bentz taking pictures. Bentz was a certified diving instructor and rescue diver. The husband communicated his wife was in trouble. Bentz went down on a single tank to try and attempt a rescue. He did not resurface. Rescuers found him floating at 76m (250ft). Friends mentioned Bentz had becoming increasingly concerned about the danger in cave diving and had been thinking about getting out. SOURCE: CBS Miami
Brent Potts (29) of Tallahassee was a certified dive instructor who completed an introductory to cave diving course. Rescue divers found his body at a depth of 60m (195ft). He had had blackouts over the year but kept them a secret from his diving partners. Friends believed he had blacked out, ultimately leading to his death in Eagles Nest. SOURCE: CBS Miami
John Robinson, Craig Simon
John Robinson (36) of St. Petersburg and Craig Simon (44) of Spring Hill were experienced cave divers. Robinson had been certified to dive caves for a decade. Simon for about two years. Robinson used a scooter to get deep into the cave. At some point, a silt out happened, causing them to lose the guideline out of the cave. Robinson dropped his scooter, and when he found the line, he continued down the line, presumably thinking he was exiting. In reality, he was headed deeper. It is presumed he eventually ran out of air and drowned.
Meanwhile Simon moved down the line as well, and was found tangled in his own emergency line wrapped around his hands, fins and equipment. It is believed that Simon was using a technique used to find a lost line. Based on the gauges, computers and available gas they had, it is believed they had 20-25 minutes to resolve the situation. It took two days for six teams of divers to find Simon in the cave. One recovery diver got the bends and had to be transported to the hospital. SOURCE: CBS Miami
James Woodall II
James Woodall II (39) of Richmond Kentucky was a certified PADI open water diver. He had been certified to use a rebreather as well. He went down with Gregory Snowden (34). They were attending a dive show in Orlando and decided to make the day trip to dive the site. Woodall knew about the cave because he had done training at the site to use nitrox tanks. It is unclear if he passed that course. Snowden said they were 82m (270ft) deep when Woodall had trouble with his rebreather. Snowden tried to help but was pushed away as Woodall panicked. Woodall drowned. SOURCE: CBS Miami
Darren and Dillon Spivey
A 35-year-old father (Darren) and 15-year-old son (Dillon) team dived the cave on Christmas morning. The father was a certified open water diver. We do not know what level of qualification he held. The son had no formal scuba training and did not hold any diving qualification. Neither of them had cave diving training. They were trying out new equipment. Dillon was found just 2m (6ft) from the opening. His tanks were empty. Darren was found at approximately 40m (130ft) depth with empty tanks. He was at the top of a sand hill, near a warning sign. Both father and son’s gauges showed they had dove deeper than 70m (230ft). SOURCE: The Underwater Marketing Company / CBS Miami
Patrick Peacock, Chris Rittenmeyer
Both men were Full Trimix, Full Cave, Full DPV, and Full Rebreather certified. They were trying to go into a section of the nest that is extremely advanced. It involved going through a clay restriction with a line trap at a depth of 85m (280ft). Something went wrong, one of the two men abandoned his fully-functioning rebreather, and the other tried to tow the first one out. SOURCE: Washington Post, NSS-CDS Accident Analysis Report
A diver who was not cave certified, died of a heart attack at Eagles Nest while attempting to do a 270ft dive. Odom had only been diving for approximately two years, yet in that time, he had bought a CCR and taken CCR training, but he had no cave training. SOURCE: Tampa Bay Times