Spearfishing line might have caused diver’s death

Posted: 06/09/2012 in all marine news

Kevin Wadlow –

A spearfishing entanglement likely caused the May 10 diving death of a physician who grew up in Marathon, says a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office report.

Ollie M. Smithwick III, 39, an anesthesiologist at the Cookeville (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center, was found on the deck of the Vandenberg shipwreck off Key West.

Earlier this week, the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office was awaiting laboratory results to rule on the cause of death.

Around 8 a.m. May 10, Smithwick made a solo dive from his rented boat to go spearfishing at the 520-foot-long Vandenberg, descending the mooring line at Buoy 4.

Two companions, Cookeville residents Sean Bein and Daniel Lilligren, followed several minutes later. They separated once reaching the shipwreck.

Bein, a relatively inexperienced diver, spotted a speared fish thrashing in the water near the stern. Bein swam to alert Lilligren and continued his dive.

At the stern, Lilligren found the fish, a dead amberjack. He followed a line from the speared fish to Smithwick’s body, lying face-up on the deck at about 65 feet.

Smithwick’s mask was off and his breathing regulator was out of his mouth, he told investigators. Lilligren tried to bring Smithwick to the surface, but Smithwick’s buoyancy compensator was damaged, the report indicates, and would not hold air.

With his own tank running low on air, an “exhausted” Lilligren surfaced to call for help, police said.

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