Two More Divers Die in Eagle's Nest Dive Area

by Hernando Sun Staff
Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Unlike the father and son divers that tragically lost their lives in 2013 at Eagle's Nest, Patrick Peacock and Chris Rittenmeyer of Fort Lauderdale were experienced divers that had explored the spot in the past. The Eagle's Nest Dive Area is a vast underwater cavern system in the middle of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area.

Although both were experienced with the location and trained divers, initial reports do not say whether the pair were certified cave divers. Warning signs are prominently displayed surrounding the dive spot stating that only certified cave divers should attempt descent or risk death. Beneath the surface, additional signs warn divers not to proceed past certain areas.

The deaths of Rittenmeyer and Peacock on Sunday October 16, 2016 underscore the danger for even those with training, as Eagle's Nest is referred to in cave diving circles as the "Mount Everest" of Cave Diving. In 2004, a pair of trained cave divers lost their lives in the cavern system that reaches depths of 300 feet in the charted areas. The total number of diver fatalities at Eagles Nest since 1981 has now reached 10.

Justin Blakely was diving with Rittenmeyer and Peacock on Sunday. He was the least experienced of the three and stayed close to the surface while his friends explored the cave. The men had planned to conduct a three-day dive, but that was cut short when Rittenmeyer and Peacock failed to check in with Blakely at a predetermined location at 3PM on Sunday. Blakely returned 30 minutes later and still there was no sign of the pair. He continued to check back every 30 minutes and at 6PM notified law enforcement.

That evening rescue divers were unable to locate the divers. At 9AM Monday morning, 10/17 a new group of rescue divers began a search that found the missing divers in 260 feet of water in a very complex area of the cave network. The divers were found in close proximity to each other.

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Revised 10/17/16 1:28 PM

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