Diving Death at Jackson Blue Springs: Remembering Richard Mork’s Fateful Descent

Diving Death at Jackson Blue Springs: Remembering Richard Mork’s Fateful Descent
Incident LocationDiver Full Name
USA, Florida, Mariana, Jackson Blue Springs Richard Mork

On September the 19th, 2008, a horrific tragedy unfolded in the blue tinted waters of Jackson Blue Springs. Richard Mork, a passionate and safety-conscious diver, ventured into the sapphire waters of the spring on a warm Florida afternoon. Everything appeared to be progressing smoothly during the dive when tragedy struck at a staggering depth of two thousand feet, turning the once peaceful dive into an unimaginable nightmare. This is the Jackson Blue Springs disaster of 2008.

Jackson Blue Spring – A Natural Wonder

Jackson Blue Spring is a readily accessible freshwater dive site located at 5461 Blue Springs Highway in Mariana, Florida. The spring is locally known as Blue Spring and Jackson Blue by cave divers. Located approximately five miles east of Mariana at the northeastern end of Marianna Mill Pond, Jackson Blue Spring plays a significant role as the primary spring responsible for feeding the pond along a 4.25-mile stretch from Jackson Spring to the current Dam. There are a total of seven other springs in the area, but the ones most known to people, especially divers, are Twin and Hole in the Wall caves, which are frequently visited due to their accessibility.

Jackson Blue Spring itself is a remarkable natural wonder known for its unique features and impressive discharge of groundwater. The spring pool has an interesting shape, approximately 240 feet in diameter from Southwest to Northeast and 233 feet from Northwest to Southeast. Its maximum depth reaches between 81 to 90 feet or 25 to 27 meters. On the southern shore of the spring pool, you’ll find a lush Latin Cypress gum forest, creating a picturesque scene. Meanwhile, the northern half of the pool is bordered by high ground that slopes upward to nearly 20 feet above the water level, offering a stunning view of the surroundings. One of the most captivating aspects of Blue Spring is its consistent water temperature, which stays at a pleasant 68 degrees year-round, making it a popular destination for visitors throughout the year. The pool is a first magnitude spring, discharging more than 64 million gallons of water a day, enough to keep the entire Marianna Mill Pond filled with crystal-clear water. The water discharged from Blue Spring is believed to have been underground for about 17 years, and its chemical composition results from rainfalls and seepage from that time period. The spring’s stunning white limestone cave system beneath its waters offers an alluring opportunity for divers. It is normally a fairly high-flow system, which limits penetration unless you’re using a scooter.

Diving at Jackson Blue Spring

Open Water scuba diving and Cave Diving at Jackson Blue Spring and other Springs in the Marianna Mill Pond area are allowed with proper permits from the county. The cave system is relatively easy to navigate, with a straightforward layout and structure. The map of the Cave System shows a main passageway that can be followed. However, the map doesn’t indicate the existence of numerous smaller paths within the cave system. Some of these smaller paths might have been forgotten over time, leading inexperienced divers to believe they are open for exploration. Dive experts advise against venturing into these smaller restrictions, as there is usually nothing significant to see, and it’s not worth taking the risk.

Richard Mork – A Passionate Diver

Born in December 1969, Richard Mork was a person who radiated an infinite amount of energy throughout his life. From his earliest days to adulthood, he was known for his unwavering passion and zest for life, leaving a lasting impact on all who knew him. Richard’s optimistic outlook, coupled with his ability to face challenges with a smile, was truly inspiring. Above all, his love for his children knew no bounds, and he cherished every moment spent with them. Living on the west side of Houston, Richard possessed an insatiable love for adventure, travel, and exploring new horizons. He was not only an avid skier but also a passionate scuba diver.

It wasn’t until 2005, during a work trip to Doha, Qatar, that Richard discovered his deep fascination for Cave Diving. Driven by his newfound passion, Richard wasted no time and underwent comprehensive PADI Cavern certification while in Doha, solidifying his skills and knowledge as a diver. During his stay in Doha, Richard seized the opportunity to embark on a scuba trip to Oman, accompanied by two colleagues. Their weekend escapade took them to breathtaking dive sites in the southern regions of Qatar. After forging unforgettable memories in Qatar, Richard eventually returned to his home in Houston for nine eventful months, where his newfound passion continued to grow. His schedule consisted of diving every other weekend, and he actively engaged with various dive forums and clubs, seeking to connect with fellow diving enthusiasts and expand his knowledge.

Richard’s Dive Buddy – Dan Weint

On November 29th, 2005, Richard became a member of a local diving group called “Chum – City of Houston Underwater Mariners.” Chum is a Houston Scuba Club founded by a group of divers from all levels of certification and experience to promote diving in Texas and share their experiences from around the world. Little did Richard know at the time, but his decision to become a member of Chum would serve as the catalyst for a significant relationship with Dan Weint, another local diver. Richard and Dan soon formed a deep bond, becoming trusted dive buddies.

Fast forward to 2008, Richard and Dan had extensively explored various caves in Florida, including Eagle’s Nest, Deep Holes in Wakulla County, and caves in Marianna and its surrounding areas. By this point, they had around 15 dives together as buddies in Florida caves. Richard was the only cave diver Dan had been with who exclusively used a rebreather for his diving equipment. The Megalodon, a fully closed circuit rebreather manufactured by Inner Space Systems Corp, was Richard’s choice of equipment. Unlike traditional scuba gear, a fully closed circuit rebreather does not release gas into the water with each breath. Instead, the exhaled gas flows through an absorbent canister where carbon dioxide is removed. The rebreather also has two gas bottles, one containing pure oxygen and the other containing dilutant, either air or a mixture of helium and oxygen.

As both atmosphere’s absolute conditions – hypoxy and hyperoxy – can lead to unconsciousness and death, it is an essential factor for divers to consider when planning their dives. It helps them determine maximum depth levels, calculate oxygen requirements, and plan safe ascents.

Understanding Oxygen Concentration and Rebreathers

Rebreathers are designed to maintain oxygen concentration between 0.75 and 1.3 atmospheres absolute, and the Megalodon, Richard’s rebreather, is normally equipped with two visual displays to monitor oxygen concentration, battery life, and gas cylinder pressures. Additionally, it has a heads-up display that provides a visual alert prompting the diver to check detailed data on its primary and secondary displays. In the event of a failure of the electronic-controlled oxygen ad valve, the diver would be able to manually add oxygen while monitoring the displays.

Dan left Georgetown, Texas, for Marianna, Florida, on Thursday, September 18th, around noon. He arrived in Houston at Richard’s friend’s apartment, where Richard was staying due to Hurricane Ike. They then drove to Marianna, Florida, arriving at Cape Adventurers rental trailer at approximately 1:45 am on September 19th.

Dive Plan at Jackson Blue Springs

The original plan was to dive Hole in the Wall cave using one of Ed Sorensen’s rental boats, but they found that all boats were rented because they forgot to reserve one. So, they decided to do dives in Jackson Blue instead. They headed to the Sheriff’s office to sign in at approximately 10 am on September 19th before arriving at Jackson Blue at approximately 10:15 am. After arrival, Dan and Richard put their gear together and discussed their dive plan. They agreed to scooter to about 3,300 feet, then swim to approximately 3,900 feet and make the jump over to Deloitte’s Delight, continuing until they hit one third or completed the circuit. Dan was using a long body cabin, and Richard was using an excooter.

Richard’s Gear and Rebreather Issues

Richard would drop one of his 80 cubic feet aluminum bottles at the back of the trash room to be used for bailout safety on dives later on Friday and Saturday. The dive plan involved a bag mount configuration for Dan and Richard using a Megalodon rebreather. Richard had recently done some work on his scooter, and although he mentioned the age of the oxygen sensors, he believed they were still within acceptable parameters.

During the dive, Richard faced two faults with his rebreather that went unnoticed during his preparation. Firstly, the rebreather’s age caused inaccurate oxygen sensor readings. Secondly, there was an issue with the improper assembly of the solenoid-controlled oxygen ad valve, which completely prevented the rebreather from functioning automatically during the entire dive.

Diving in Jackson Blue Springs

They geared up and entered the water at approximately 12:45 pm. Dan initially had an issue with bubbles, but Richard helped him correct it. At 10 minutes into the dive, they descended down the chimney to a depth of approximately 90 feet, and at approximately 900 feet penetration, Dan reached half his gas and 200 PSI on his first stage bottle. He shut it down and dropped it on the main line.

Richard and Dan reached the third T and approximately 58 minutes into the dive, Richard made a left and headed down the rabbit hole. However, just inside the entrance, Richard began showing signs of distress and unresponsiveness.

Richard’s Emergency Situation

Richard’s rebreather displayed inaccurate oxygen concentration levels, and the solenoid control valve failed in the open position, requiring Richard to manually add oxygen during the dive. This situation posed a serious threat to his safety. Attempting to manually control oxygen concentration with faulty sensors would have been challenging and risky.

Dan noticed Richard’s distress, and at almost exactly 60 minutes into the dive, Richard stopped swimming. Dan tried to assist Richard by providing him an open-circuit regulator from his bailout bottle. After 15 minutes of attempting to assist, Dan had to make the tough decision to leave Richard, as his own gas situation was becoming critical.

Dan performed approximately two minutes of Deco on oxygen and then ascended to the surface, where he called for emergency assistance.

Recovery and Findings

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office dive team and other certified cave divers recovered Richard’s body from the cave Friday afternoon. Richard’s gear was sent to NEDU for evaluation. The investigation determined that Richard died due to hyperoxia resulting from the improper functioning of his rebreather and the manual control of oxygen concentration.

It is essential to highlight that manually controlling oxygen concentration in a rebreather is acceptable in emergency situations but not recommended as regular practice. Regular maintenance and sensor replacement are crucial to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the oxygen monitoring system.

Honoring Richard Mork

Chum decided to rename their Diver of the Year award in honor of Richard, and it is now the Richard “Packet Sniffer” Mork Diver of the Year award. A memorial service was held in honor of Richard Mork on Saturday, January 17th, at Jackson Blue Springs.

As friends and family bid farewell to Richard, they remembered the light he brought into their lives and the profound impact of his adventurous and loving soul. May he rest in peace. Diving is a thrilling endeavor, but proper training and certification are essential for safe exploration.

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What was the incident location?

Incident took place at Jackson Blue Springs, Mariana, Florida, USA.

Who was the diver involved?

The diver’s full name was Richard Mork.

What caused the tragedy during the dive?

The tragedy was caused by improper functioning of Richard’s rebreather and manual control of oxygen concentration.

What’s the maximum depth of Jackson Blue Springs?

The maximum depth is between 81 to 90 feet (25 to 27 meters).

What is the water temperature at Jackson Blue Springs?

The water temperature is a consistent 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Rebecca Penrose
Rebecca, an experienced blogger, delves into the world of diving accidents, sharing insights, stories, and valuable lessons learned. Dive in and explore the depths of underwater safety.
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