2 Men Die During Florida Cave Diving Expedition; the sheriff says they may have been aware of the trouble before they went underwater

Two men drowned during a diving expedition in a labyrinthine Florida cave system that extends far below the surface, authorities said Thursday.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said three teenagers saw the two divers enter the Buford Springs cave on Wednesday, but one surfaced and was floating unconscious.

The teens swam to check on him and received no response, authorities said. They were able to get the diver to the dock, but were unable to get him out of the water.

Two deputies “jumped into the water and together they lifted the diver to the dock,” the sheriff’s office said. “The diver was obviously deceased.”

Rescue divers found the second man 137 feet down in the cave.

They were identified as Todd Richard McKenna, 52, and Stephen Roderick Gambrell, 63. The medical examiner will determine the cause of death.

According to the sheriff’s office, the teens overheard the two divers arguing about entering the cave and whether they had enough air in their tanks, with one mentioning a possible leak. Both fell into the water and apparently drowned, the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office said none of the divers had “obvious signs of trauma” and appeared to be in “appropriate gear.” Agents said they weren’t sure if the divers’ equipment was working properly.

The bodies of both men were turned over to the medical examiner.

Buford Springs is a network of underground caverns with a drop of 167 feet, according to a guide on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Contains twisting passages inside the caverns; divers must register and obtain clearance from park officials before diving into a potentially dangerous situation.

“Even experienced cave divers have perished here. Underwater caves, as beautiful as they are, do not forgive mistakes,” says the guide.

The cave is located in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Park, which is north of the Tampa Bay area along the Gulf Coast. An adjacent cave, Eagle’s Nest Sink, is considered the “Mount Everest of cave diving,” according to the wildlife commission.

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