Mike Brassfield –
Weeki Wachee Springs is a beautiful place where women in mermaid costumes frolic in the water to entertain tourists.
But deeper beneath the surface, there’s a cavernous underwater world that can be dangerous.
An experienced, certified cave diver accidentally drowned in that world Saturday while diving with a research team at Weeki Wachee State Park.
Marson Kay, 29, of Gainesville apparently became disoriented during a dive in Weeki Wachee’s main spring and got wedged in an underwater cavern, authorities said.
He died despite a last-ditch rescue attempt by his fellow divers, who couldn’t free him.
Kay was part of a dive team with Karst Underwater Research, a Tampa-based nonprofit company that maps underwater springs for Florida state agencies and water management districts.
The group has been exploring Weeki Wachee Springs for years and has discovered that it’s the deepest spring in the United States.
“Cave diving was his passion. In the cave diving community, that cave is like Mount Everest,” said a friend, Tampa diver Ed Jackson.
“It’s already a very dangerous sport, and that’s the hardest of the hard. At that depth, there’s no room for error at all.”
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office gave the following account of Saturday’s accident: Kay and five other divers entered the water shortly after 3:30 p.m. and descended into the springs to an underwater cavern.
They went about 175 feet down. That cavern contains several tight rock formations at a depth of about 100 feet.
During an ascent to the surface, it appears Kay became disoriented and took a different path back up.
He got stuck in a spot where the opening of a rock formation was too small for him to swim through, said Hernando sheriff’s Lt. Cinda Moore.