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Divers drowned inside the Spiegal Grove

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That's really sad news, I dove the Spiegel a couple of years ago and the idea of penetration scared me a lot as a stared at an open door. I would only do it with all possible safety features in such a big wreck, but apparently these guys didn't even use a decent (or some backup) reel to mark the way back...

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Its always sad to hear of these tragedies... :rolleyes:


Diving is a dangerous pastime/ hobby/ job..So whatever you do, use your head and never get complacent with anything...


My thoughts are with the families and friends...


Yes Gary I always sign off with that sentiment and I truly mean it..




Please..Dive safe



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A tragedy, yes, all the more so because it was preventable:


>All divers were wearing single Al 80's.

>The diver that survived stayed at the entrance, and surfaced because of low gas.

>One diver carried an additional 80 as a stage. This is the fatality that was recovered shortly after the survivor surfaced.

>The two remaining victims penetrated to the pump room, amazingly deep (about 130 fsw) and far inside considerinng the carried gas supplies.

>The reel that was run apparently broke.




Here is the very, very depressing part: these divers were reported as being experienced New Jersey cold-water, low-vis wreck divers. If true, why someone would perform a dive that breaks so much of their training is beyond comprehension.


And if they were not so trained, they intentionally set out on a dive that was soooo far beyond ... <speachless>


Sadly, James

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Your signature is so impressed on me I've been copying it lately. It's the friendliest way to end a post to another diver.


Dive Safe,


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From Monroe County Sheriff's Department:


Monroe County Sheriff's Office

Daily Crime and Information Report

March 17, 2007 - 6:45 p.m.


Detectives investigate deaths


Key Largo, Fla. - Monroe County Sheriff's Detectives are investigating the deaths of three divers who entered the wreck of the Spiegel 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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There's something off about this story. It' hard for me to imagine these divers blowing off basic safety procedure and equipment requirements and doing that penetration if they really were, as reported, trained, qualified and experienced cold water low-viz wreck divers.


robert delfs

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Sad :ninja:


But no one to blame except themselves by the look. :rolleyes:

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There's something off about this story. It' hard for me to imagine these divers blowing off basic safety procedure and equipment requirements and doing that penetration if they really were, as reported, trained, qualified and experienced cold water low-viz wreck divers.


robert delfs


I dunno Robert. I think the more advanced some divers are, the more they take for granted the easier dives. To enter a wreck with no lines? I mean this was deep penetration, not just a swim around the outer areas.

Still never nice to hear about things like this, especially if it is avoidable.

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The biggest mistake divers make as they become more experienced is becoming over confident and indestructable (or far too comfortable) and not always going back to basics. I know a few people who have died in the water and I can tell you that it, as in this case, was preventable. Realistically, some divers become so comfortable with their skills that it becomes a detriment to their diving skills. One should ALWAYS approach each and every dive with respect, planning, awareness and actions to reduce the liklihood of a disaster. Sounds like these guys fit the profile to a tee of being too comfortable.

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Its so tragic when you here of people dying when doing something they enjoy.

But the saftey of all divers is the most important. You must also respect the environment

in which you are going, or to put it another way, you have two options RESPECT THE SEA


So this goes out to all as DeanB says Take care Dive Safe.

Andy :rolleyes::ninja:

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An update for those that are interested. Reliable second hand confirms these accounts.


A shower of silt believed to have doomed 3 divers

Monday, March 19, 2007


Star-Ledger Staff

Swirling silt likely blinded three New Jersey divers and blocked their exit from the pump room of a sunken Navy ship, officials and scuba experts said yesterday.


The three men, Jonathan Walsweer and Scott Stanley of Westfield and Kevin Coughlin of Chatham Borough, died Friday after running out of air in the belly of the USS Spiegel Grove, 134 feet underwater, six miles east of Key Largo, Fla. A fourth diver, Howard Spialter of Westfield, escaped.


"Visibility went to zero," said Tom Doherty of Old Bridge, a dive instructor who knew all four men and spoke with Spialter after the accident. "Howard managed by feel, literally, to find the hatch opening in the floor and drop through it. That's how he survived."


Although the Monroe County Sheriff's Department originally reported Spialter stayed outside the wreck while his friends explored the labyrinth within, officials said yesterday all four divers swam to the pump room, a particularly dangerous part of the ship that was supposed to be sealed shut.


According to the sheriff's department, Spialter said the divers weren't sure where they were, but he thought he knew the right direction. As he ran low on air in his tank, he tried to tell the others which way to go, but they didn't listen.


"He went one way and they went the other," Detective Mark Coleman said. "He lived because he went the right way and got out."


The Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot Navy landing ship dock, was sunk five years ago as an artificial reef and diving attraction. Each year an estimated tens of thousands of divers visit the wreck, though only the most experienced venture inside, where intense dark and strong currents can be disorienting.


The men dove the wreck about five other times, including on Thursday, when they also explored the pump room, friends said. They were experts, and all except Coughlin were instructors.


Spialter, 52, is a prominent Union County attorney and former Union Township municipal court judge.


Stanley, 55, a karate instructor and father of two grown children, was co-owner of the Carpet Mill outlet in East Hanover. Coughlin, 51, had battled back from homelessness and alcoholism to amass significant property holdings in New Jersey and elsewhere, said his friend, Bob Moran. And Walsweer, 38, had two young sons and worked as a financial adviser for Smith Barney in Roseland


"The dive friends, everyone kind of came from different backgrounds and really got along well," said Walsweer's wife, Regina. "They were older than he was, but they really bonded together."


Drawing the men -- who planned their trip in November -- were 166 species of fish, including barracudas and bull sharks, and the history of the ship, which was commissioned in 1956 and once carried Navy amphibious craft to Cold War hot spots.


"It's a thrill," said Tony Donetz of Flemington, who dove at Spiegel Grove last year with all four men. "You never know ... what's going to be around that corner. It could be nothing. It could be some nice fish. It could be a shark. That's why you're exploring."


Spialter declined yesterday to speak to reporters. But friends in New Jersey, divers with whom he had made dozens of trips, spoke with Spialter.


"He was just hysterical," said Marianne Stanley, Scott Stanley's wife. "I said, 'You did everything you could do.'"


Spialter had grabbed Stanley by the hand, friends said. But when Stanley tried to help another friend, he lost his grip.


"He (Spialter) lost more than just a dive buddy," said Jim Flanagan, president of the Ocean Wreck Divers of New Jersey. "He lost his best friend."


The whole scary ordeal must have taken place about 20 minutes into the men's dive, said Doherty, explaining a tank could hold about 20 to 25 minutes of air at that depth.


The men had brought extra "stage tanks" with them, but left them closer to the entrance, unreachable once the curtain of silt descended, sheriff's officials said. And they didn't have dive reels -- spools of line tied to the dive entrance so divers can find their way back.


"It doesn't take very much movement to kick that silt up and cause problems with your ability to see," Coleman said. "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."


The men did set up strobe lights at the entrance and exit to each room, separated by narrow passages, friends said.


Small, high-intensity lights, they can be dropped "like laying bread crumbs" as divers move through a wreck, said R. J. Hartman, owner of the Treasure Cove dive shop in Westfield that brought the men together.


But in the silt -- sand stirred up from the ground and rust raining down from above -- the strobe lights were not enough. Silt can take up to an hour to clear, even outside of wrecks, Doherty said.


Sheriff's officials also contend the men did not have a dive plan, something their friends dispute. Donetz said he spoke with Stanley last Monday and knew their plan, which included exploring the pump room.


The bodies of Walsweer and Stanley were brought to the surface Saturday after a team of rescue divers found them.


Two other divers had brought Coughlin's body to the surface on Friday. A boat from the Atlantis Dive Shop, of Key West, Fla., was out by the Scuba-do, the vessel which had taken the four Jersey friends out to the wreck, Atlantis co-owner Spencer Slate said yesterday.


The two divers on his 40-foot commercial boat the Starfish Enterprise, then went into the water, Slate said, but they were not immediately aware of the tragedy unfolding.


The divers told Slate they were swimming along the left side of the Spiegel Grove's deck, when they came upon Coughlin, who wasn't moving. It took them only a minute to surface with Coughlin, and a Coast Guard boat was there to take him away.


"He had about made it, he was almost in open water," Slate said. "He must've just blacked out from exhaustion. He was just 70 feet from the surface."


Autopsies were scheduled for yesterday, but results were not available. The sheriff's office investigation is ongoing.


"It's a terrible tragedy," Doherty said. "I don't think we'll ever clearly understand what happened."


Staff writers Suleman Din, Ralph Ortega and Alexi Friedman contributed to this report.


I was diving "The Grove" Friday morning when this incident occurred. There were 5 boats out there, about half the number that are normally present, due to 5 to 6 foot waves keeping the crowd down. I was on Quiescence II, which was moored to the starboard bow ball. Slate's boat "Starfish Enterprise" was moored next to us on port bow ball. Additionally, there was "Scuba Do", "Island Ventures" & "It's A Dive" on site at the time and tied up on port balls of the wreck.




Scuba Do captain did a great job in managing all the radio traffic and inquiries made by the Coast Guard & other agencies that showed up. It was a VERY CONFUSING and FLUID situation & he calmly worked the problem.


The first diver came up (low on air) and blew a whistle to alert of a problem. Coast Guard was called and they were actually ON SCENE by the time the divers that were from Slate's boat (and just happened upon the diver in the wreck) came up with the first victim. A Coast Guard RIB-like vessel pulled along side of them and 4 CG crew men pulled the diver on board. I'm guessing not more than a minute from the time that divers surfaced with him.


NOW, I don't know what the news articles mean that say he was in "distress". Because the CG started giving the diver CPR right away! So if "distress" means in respitory and/or cardiac arrest, then OK, I'll agree with that statement. Normally, we use "distress" for a diver that is having problems getting down, or is stressed due to be low on air. Anyway, CG gave compressions and floated on the scene for maybe 5 minutes, as there was some possibility that 2 divers coming up that same line were the "lost" divers. A diver from Island Ventures entered the water and went down that line to deliver a fresh bottle, as it was assumed that if it were the 2 missing divers, they would be in DEEP DECO and need more gas. However, after more minutes passing, and numerous radio inquiries, it was determined that the divers on the line WERE NOT the missing ones, just 2 divers coming up the wrong line. (Divers coming up wrong line on SG is not uncommon. We had 2 of Slate's divers

come up our line in the middle of our group. In a pinch, any line will do is often the thought...usually by those who didn't plan or pay attention on their dive!) Once it was determined not to be the divers, the CG RIB took off to shore with the unresponsive diver.


We (and the other boats present) stayed on scene for an hour. We had lookouts posted, in case the divers surfaced away from the wreck. But the current WAS LOW that day, and the probability of that was low too. Some highly qualified divers on our boat, prepared to go back down, but with a short surface interval, bottom time was insufficient to be effective. ( I can only assume the same situation was occurring on the other boats present.) At some point the reality of it being a RECOVERY instead of RESCUE was reached. Scuba Do captain radioed CG to close the wreck for diving. CG helicopter showed up later and hovered the area for probably an hour.


The dive shop the group I was diving with was staying at, was used as headquarters for the recovery effort. A recovery group went out FRI afternoon and returned after dark without being able to remove the trapped divers. They went out again on SAT morning and finally returned LATE Saturday afternoon with the recovery completed.


IT IS PHENOMENAL the amount of MAN POWER and EQUIPMENT that went into this effort, due to the depth involved. A big tip of the hat to Key Largo Fire Rescue and all the other parties/agencies/diveshops involved in the recovery.


Again it was impressive the level of professionalism and responsiveness that was shown that day. It is unfortunate that all this effort couldn't have brought forth a better outcome.


The divers who did this dive had certifications and experience that were impressive...up to Trimix instructor.


Given the experience and qualifications of the victims, it shows how anybody can convince themselves into a course of action that they would not usually do.


This reminds me of the watchphrase I was taught in my instructor class: "If there's doubt... there is no doubt".


All the best, James

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Thank you for the confirmed acct.


That is really tragic and shows why no one should jump to conclusions about what occurred till all the data is in - and it still is not all in.


But it does look like they skipped safety procedures and that opened the door for this tragic nightmare. I feel loss for all of them.


But James, why was the pump room not sealed off? I wonder if that portion of the ship was more easily accessed when the ship turned upright from the storm in Aug 05? It would be interesting to see just where the "pump room" is and if it was more easily accessed after the change in orientation of the ship?


Being that the ship is in a NOAA National Marine Sanctuary, I know many more safety procedures are targeted at the Spiegel Grove than other wrecks just because it was sunk in a sanctuary. I'm surprised the pump room was even accessible at all and I wonder if it was "opened up" more when the ship slipped into its own hole in '05 and turned upright (and settled a little deeper)?


Or maybe no one ever thought divers would try to penetrate so no one "re-sealed" it? If these guys died then to send working divers in to "re-seal" access to that room would be highly dangerous also. But then with proper safety procedures would be possible.


I think this will turn out bad for other wreck divers as well, especially those that want to dive wrecks that have some government connection like the Vandenburg, etc. More safety procedures will be used and I can already hear Billy Causey's (Dir of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary), anyway I can hear his seniors at NOAA saying why wasn't that part of the ship sealed off!!!!


Of course it is the diver's responsibility what they choose to explore underwater. But with a ship that is in a government sponsored sanctuary (like the Spiegel Grove), well the Director of that Sanctuary always has to answer some tough questions. And I think in light of this there will be less access for technical divers in any wreck that has any connections to NOAA, etc.


I feel terrible for these divers, their families/friends and the survivor, but I'm not surprised at all that is was handled it a very professional manner by all the other dive boats and topside and rescue personnel. I dive down there a lot and we have some great captains and divers along with rescue personnel.



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Carol, the area the fatalities occured was secured to prevent penetration, by a hatch with a chain. This hatch had been opened at some time prior to this dive. Nobody I know is willing to confess.


As for further restrictions, word on the street right now is that if you show up with doubles (or even a "techie" looking scooter) on a Keys dive boat, be prepared to be treated like a leper. This treatment is ironic given that if these gentlemen had had doubles, they would probabally be alive.


All the best, James

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