TAMPA (CBSMiami) – Two South Florida men died after going cave diving north of Tampa.
According to Hernando County Sheriff’s deputies, they were called out to the Eagles Nest dive area Saturday evening.
There, a third diver told deputies he and his friends, Chris Rittenmeyer and Patrick Peacock, had driven up from Fort Lauderdale for a three-day dive at Eagles Nest.
While Rittenmeyer and Peacock explored the cave, the third diver stayed closer to the surface because he was not as experienced as his friends.
“Whatever happened, we can sit here and try to come up with an answer, but in the end, my son is gone. That’s tragic, as is Pat. Both highly qualified people,” said Ron Rittenmeyer, Chris’ father.
He said Rittenmeyer had been an avid diver since he was 12 years old.
“There have been other caves they’ve dived where there have been other deaths before. But when you’re trained and you’re used to it and you plan your dive, there’s no reason to believe at that time you are going to have a problem. They checked their equipment, their equipment is always maintained excellent. You know, they follow through,” said Ron Rittenmeyer.
Rittenmeyer and Peacock were found by a group of rescue divers the following morning in 260 feet of water in a very dangerous and complex area of the cave system, according to authorities.
A sign at the cave warns divers of the risk of Eagles Nest.
But Joe Citelli with the The National Speleological Society-Cave Diving Section says the sign is for those who are not trained or experienced cave divers, which was not the case here.
“Anything could happen. It could collapse on you. You could get lost. You could get stuck. There’s degree of risk we all accept when we do these things,” said Citelli.
While there have been calls to close Eagles Nest after the death of other divers in the past, Rittenmeyer’s father says there’s no reason to shut it down.
“I think that there’s no reason that it is too treacherous and should be closed. My son passed away there and I feel bad about that. It’s a dive site. If you’re qualified, you should be able to dive it. If you push your limits, which they did, to a degree, if they had come back out on Sunday, they would have felt great, and they would have gone up there and get another day, OK?” said Rittenmyer.
The medical examiner’s office is working to determine the cause of death.
The divers’ equipment is also being examined.