On 3/31/2012 at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida, KARST Underwater Research
(KUR) team members were performing a series of dives which included entering and exiting the cave system. Marson Kay, a two-year veteran of KUR's all volunteer team, drowned while exiting the cave system. The following information, based on eye witness and forensic evidence, provides some insight into this tragic accident.
Following a successful dive into the cave at 180 feet, Marson Kay signaled he was exiting. From that point, a 1/2" braided white rope leads upwards to 142 feet, where the crevasse area of the cavern begins. Although the cave narrows at this point, the rope, now colored orange with a diameter of 7/16", is placed in the largest easement leading to a depth of 68 feet, where daylight clearly can be seen at all times. Instead of following the ropes as he had done multiple times in the past, Marson rapidly moved into a highly restrictive area of the crevasse. It is believed that this behavior was not a calculated decision but a reaction caused by the affects of an embolism he incurred while rapidly ascending from depth. According to the coroner's evaluation, Marson developed a cerebral arterial gas embolism prior to his death. Typically, this condition causes profound changes in mental functioning including disorientation, blindness, paralysis, seizures and loss of consciousness within minutes or even seconds of onset. If it occurs after surfacing, it is often fatal or profoundly disabling even with prompt recompression therapy; when it occurs underwater, the incapacity or unconsciousness it causes almost always results in drowning.
Although safety divers were in visual contact and additional safety gas cylinders were in place, he rapidly pushed himself upward into an area where even side-mount divers could not easily access. Several attempts were made to communicate, by means of light signals as well as touch contact. Although Marson was still moving at this time, he did not directly respond to these communication attempts. After approximately 5 minutes, divers reported Marson was no longer utilizing his regulator. A subsequent review of his equipment indicated that Marson had approximately half of his gas supply remaining in both of his tanks and his regulators appeared to be working properly.
Cave diving is an inherently dangerous activity, just as rock-climbing, mountain biking and even horseback riding. All cave divers understand the risks of diving in underwater caves and accept them as an inescapable part of the activity they are so passionate about. Marson's accidental death is great personal loss to all that knew and loved him as well as to our team. We will do the best we can to honor his memory.