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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CAVE DIVER FATALITY - March 31, 2012

Last Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Gainesville man who died in a cave diving accident last weekend at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park suffered an air embolism, an autopsy found.
Marson Kay, 29, died Saturday after getting trapped in a cavern while on a dive with Karst Underwater Research. The Medical Examiner's Office released its autopsy findings Thursday and said the cause of death was an air embolism, which can occur when a diver ascends too quickly, and a scuba accident. The investigation has been closed.
Karst Underwater Research posted a thorough conclusion on its Facebook page, which it said was based on eye-witness accounts and forensic evidence.
According to KUR, Kay made a successful dive into a cave at 180 feet and signaled he was exiting. From that point, a half-inch braided white rope leads up to 142 feet, where the crevasse area of the cavern begins. Although the cave narrows at that point, the rope continues, now colored orange and placed in the largest area leading to a depth of 68 feet, where daylight can be seen at all times.
Instead of following the ropes as he had done multiple times, Kay rapidly moved into a highly restrictive area of the crevasse. It's believed this behavior was not a calculated decision, but rather a reaction caused by the effects of an embolism Kay suffered while rapidly ascending, the KUR post says.
According to the coroner's evaluation, KUR says, Kay developed a cerebral arterial gas embolism.
"Typically, this causes profound changes in mental functioning, including disorientation, blindness, paralysis, seizures and loss of consciousness within minutes or seconds of onset." KUR says.
Kay pushed himself upward into an area that even side-mount divers could not easily access. Attempts to rescue him were unsuccessful.
KUR's post cites the inherent risks of cave diving and says Kay's death is a "great personal loss to all that knew and loved him, as well as to our team."

Weeki Wachee drowning claims expert cave diver working on research team

By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Monday, April 2, 2012
Marson Kay, 29, of Gainesville is shown cave diving in 2008 at the Little River Conservation Area near Branford in North Florida. Kay died Saturday diving at Weeki Wachee Springs.
Marson Kay, 29, of Gainesville is shown cave diving in 2008 at the Little River Conservation Area near Branford in North Florida. Kay died Saturday diving at Weeki Wachee Springs.
[Courtesy of Ed Jackson]

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WEEKI WACHEE — Weeki Wachee Springs is a beautiful place where women in mermaid costumes frolic in the water to entertain tourists. But deeper beneath the surface, there's a cavernous underwater world that can be dangerous.
An experienced, certified cave diver accidentally drowned in that world Saturday while diving with a research team at Weeki Wachee State Park.
Marson Kay, 29, of Gainesville apparently became disoriented during a dive in Weeki Wachee's main spring and got wedged in an underwater cavern, authorities said. He died despite a last-ditch rescue attempt by his fellow divers, who couldn't free him.
Kay was part of a dive team with Karst Underwater Research, a Tampa-based nonprofit company that maps underwater springs for Florida state agencies and water management districts. The group has been exploring Weeki Wachee Springs for years and has discovered that it's the deepest spring in the United States.
"Cave diving was his passion. In the cave diving community, that cave is like Mount Everest," said a friend, Tampa diver Ed Jackson. "It's already a very dangerous sport, and that's the hardest of the hard. At that depth, there's no room for error at all."
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office gave the following account of Saturday's accident:
Kay and five other divers entered the water shortly after 3:30 p.m. and descended into the springs to an underwater cavern. They went about 175 feet down. That cavern contains several tight rock formations at a depth of about 100 feet.
During an ascent to the surface, it appears Kay became disoriented and took a different path back up. He got stuck in a spot where the opening of a rock formation was too small for him to swim through, said Hernando sheriff's Lt. Cinda Moore.
The flow of the spring water may have prevented Kay from freeing himself from the cavern, officials said. Divers explore the spring's lower depths only during drought conditions. That's because rain increases the flow of water until it's too strong for divers to maneuver into the narrow crevices that lead into the spring's deepest parts.
Kay's fellow divers found him and tried to free him, but they were unsuccessful. They ascended to the surface and notified Karst's research director, Brett Hemphill, of the emergency. A rescue team went into the water and reached Kay in two to three minutes.
When they arrived, Kay was lifeless, with his mask on his forehead and his regulator out of his mouth. The rescue divers had to cut Kay's equipment off to free his body from the cave. They surfaced just after 4:45 p.m.
"The guys who were down there with him tried to free him," Moore said. "The rescue divers got there very quickly, but by that point he had already passed away."
• • •
The Karst diving team uses extensive safety precautions, according to a 2009 Times article about the group. Divers affiliated with Karst described how treacherous the Weeki Wachee Springs could be. "It looks peaceful but it can be a very dangerous place," dive safety specialist Walter Pickel said then.
Pickel was the dive safety officer who coordinated rescue efforts for Kay on Saturday.
"Marson was a very experienced cave diver who died tragically," he said. "His death will leave a permanent mark on all that knew him."
Kay's fiancee was at the scene, he said.
Kay was known as an expert diver. In 2010, he was one of a group who volunteered to search for missing diver Ben McDaniel in Vortex Spring near Ponce de Leon in Florida's Panhandle. Despite repeated efforts, McDaniel's body was never found.
Because Kay lived in Gainesville, he was able to dive in nearby cave systems two or three times a week, said his friend, Jackson.
"He progressed really quickly because he had the opportunity to do so much diving," Jackson said. "He's gone much further than I've considered going, with his ability and his nerve — although I didn't consider him reckless by any means."
The Weeki Wachee Springs cave is difficult because of the strong current, Jackson said. "Even when you can get in there, it's like climbing with a fire hose being blown at you."

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