WEEKI WACHEE — Two men apparently died while cave-diving at the "Buford Springs Cave," which lies in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Park in Weeki Wachee.
The victims have been identified as Todd Richard McKenna, 52, and Stephen Roderick Gambrell, 63.
On Wednesday, June 22 at about 12:20 p.m., a Hernando County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call about a possible drowning at the cave, 13243 Commercial Way. The caller was one of three juveniles (ages 15, 15, and 17) who arrived at the park around 9 a.m. to swim and hang out by the water.
At approximately 11 a.m., two adult males arrived. As the adults prepared for their dive, they chatted with the juveniles. Both entered the water and dove for a short time before resurfacing.
When the adults resurfaced, they talked, and the juveniles believed the discussion was in regard to going back down into the "cave" and whether they had enough air in their tanks to complete their dive. One of the divers is believed to have mentioned that he possibly had a leak in his tank. After a short time, both adults dove back down under the water.
A short while later, the juveniles observed one of the divers come to the surface, floating face-down. The juveniles believed he was doing this to look for the other diver who had yet to resurface.
The juveniles noticed there were no bubbles coming to the surface, like there had been earlier. The juveniles swam over to check on him and received no response. They were able to get the diver over to the dock, but were unable to lift him out of the water.
Upon arrival, Deputies N. Burburan and J. Balafas jumped into the water and together were able to lift the diver onto the dock. The diver was obviously deceased. The deputies waited for the other diver to come to the surface, deputies believing he would come up soon as he would be running out of air.
As time passed and the second diver did not surface, it was surmised that he most likely experienced some type of problem in the cave.
Several members of the International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery group responded to the scene to try to recover the second diver. These are highly specialized cave divers, and they entered the water and began the search for the second diver.
They found the second diver about 137 feet below the surface. That diver was dead, too, and recovered and brought to the surface.
Neither of the divers had any obvious signs of trauma and both appeared to have the appropriate diving equipment. It is unknown at this time if all the equipment was working properly.
Both victims were turned over to the medical examiner.
Detectives located identification belonging to both victims inside the vehicle in which they arrived.
The investigation is continuing, the Sheriff’s Office said.
This story has been updated with the identity of the second victim.