Rapture of the Deep

A voyage into the murky underworld off Key Largo turns deadly

Mark Cianculli, the owner of Scuba Do, classifies the tragedy as "diver error." He won't answer any questions about the tragedy or offer opinions. "I'm just waiting for this all to settle down and for people to forget about it," he adds.

It is possible that at least one of the three men panicked as he ran low on air, which caused the others to do the same. It is also possible that they were overconfident in their skills and when confronted with a dark, confined space — while running low on oxygen, their brains foggy — they made bad choices, like trying to share air.

There's also another scenario: Maybe one, or more, of the guys were "narc-ed" — a term divers use to describe an altered state of consciousness, similar to being drunk, at depths of 100 feet or more. The technical name is narcosis; famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau called it "rapture of the deep." Sometimes it causes divers to behave illogically; in other people, it inspires anxiety. Scientists aren't really sure what causes the state, but they think it's due to the high nitrogen pressure on the nerve transmissions.

In May 2002 the Spiegel Grove was intentionally sunk to attract marine life and divers
AP World Wide
In May 2002 the Spiegel Grove was intentionally sunk to attract marine life and divers
Richie Kohler, a wreck diver from New Jersey, hosts the History Channel show Deep Sea Detectives
Richie kohler
Richie Kohler, a wreck diver from New Jersey, hosts the History Channel show Deep Sea Detectives

Still, all of the men were aware of the risks. That's why the deaths of Scott Stanley, Walsweer, and Coughlin rocked the scuba world. It's not that they were the first to die on the Spiegel Grove —three other people had perished in separate incidents over the years — but most diving accidents in the Keys were due to inexperience or heart attacks. (There have been eighteen diving deaths, including those of snorkelers, since this past July.)

Kohler, and the many in Key Largo who depend on diving as their livelihood, insist that the Spiegel Grove is a safe dive — if the rules are followed. It was only closed to diving for two days after the tragedy, long enough for the bodies to be recovered. Kohler, who dove the wreck with a camera crew in 2006, long before the tragedy, is set to release an online documentary of the Spiegel Grovelater this year.

These days online scuba forums have stopped speculating on what befell the four New Jersey men. Instead divers around the world are now discussing how to obtain navy ship blueprints that will show them how to swim to the now-infamous pump room.

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