The Tragic Dive: The Mystery of Devil’s Den

The Tragic Dive: The Mystery of Devil’s Den
Incident LocationDiver Full Name
Williston, Florida, USA – Devil’s DenCP

Few caves on Earth are more interesting than Devil’s Den in Williston, Florida. Numerous photographers and videographers have described it as the most beautiful cave in the world. But it isn’t just the natural scenery that makes this cave both mysterious and intriguing; it’s also the fact that multiple people have died there, sometimes under fairly mysterious circumstances. Today, we’ll take a look at the cave and what makes it so unique, and we’ll take a look at some of the stories of those who never made it out to see daylight again.

The Naming of Devil’s Den

The best way to describe how mind-blowing this cave is is to see it in person. And why it earned itself the name Devil’s Den is to revisit the experience of the early settlers from the 1800s who first stumbled upon it. To find the cave back then, you had to have been traversing the grassy, tree-covered expanse of Northern Florida, about 25 miles southeast of what is now the city of Gainesville.

Hidden among a crowd of water oak trees and cloaked in thick vines, it might be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. But as you approach, it becomes unmistakable—there is a hole in the earth. Sometimes there will be steam billowing out of this hole too, which really adds a cinematic quality to it. If you are a fire and brimstone Bible-carrying settler from the 19th century, this would be more than enough to make you whip off your hat and say, “Golly, that hole goes straight to hell.”

But apparently, the settlers named this cave before they bothered to actually look inside of it. Once they peered over the edge of the hole, instead of seeing the orange glow of Satan’s kingdom, they saw tranquil blue water, as clear and clean as a whistle. While they probably didn’t know it at the time, they were actually looking at an underground river—a river that is so old it turned out to be full of prehistoric fossils, including saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, camels, and even human remains dating back more than 7,000 years.

The Neglected Years

Sadly, early settlers in this area were not on an expedition from the Smithsonian Museum. They did figure out how to grow some watermelons around the cave and how to keep their cows under the shade of the surrounding oak trees, but that’s about it. Some of the braver youngsters around town would periodically use it as a swimming hole, but they quit doing that pretty abruptly once the cave started being used by the locals as a dump.

And they say people have no respect for nature. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that any further attention got paid to this extraordinary underground wonder, which was now full of trash and generally regarded by the locals as being full of demons.

Rediscovery and Recreational Use

In the 1970s, scuba diving suddenly became super popular. Scuba enthusiasts realized that this so-called “hell hole” was no hell hole at all but a fantastic place to go scuba diving. Eventually, the property was purchased by a couple who renovated it and turned it into a site designated for recreational scuba diving and scuba training. There are several features that make this such an ideal spot for scuba diving.

One is the water temperature. For reasons that I could not find explanations for, but which I presume must have something to do with Florida’s climate and the secluded underground environment of the cave, the water in Devil’s Den never changes temperature. It is always 72 degrees Fahrenheit or about 22 degrees Celsius. That’s not far from the temperature of the ocean in Southern California in the middle of summer.

Another feature is the remarkable shape of the cave. The entrance is small enough that you have to walk single file down one flight of stairs to get to the water. However, once you get there, you see that the cave is actually getting wider and wider the further down you go. This continues in a big way once you plunge underneath the surface of the water.

Despite the relatively narrow entryway, if you swim all the way to the bottom, some 50 plus feet below the surface, Devil’s Den actually gets as wide as 200 feet across. This phenomenon is described as being an inverted mushroom, and it makes underwater exploration here uniquely fascinating. But surely the main reason why visitors travel from all over the world to explore the water in Devil’s Den is for its beauty. The images speak for themselves. It’s no wonder that Devil’s Den is a popular destination.

The Dark Side of Devil’s Den

But it’s more than that. As I mentioned earlier, there is a dark side to this cave. It didn’t turn out to be a portal to hell in quite the way its early observers thought, but it has claimed multiple lives. The first reported fatalities at Devil’s Den came in 1990, not long after the property was purchased and renovated to be a dedicated diving site. Only a few records exist today that describe the event, one of which was a newspaper article that was apparently never published. However, after some digging, I’ve been able to piece together a decent picture that is also pretty horrifying.

We know that the event took place on Sunday, October 7, 1990. We also know that it involved three scuba divers. Strangely, only their initials are given—CP, KK, and CM. Because of this, we unfortunately don’t know much of anything about who they were outside of being scuba diving enthusiasts.

We do, however, get a couple of strong clues that CP must have been the most experienced diver and the leader of the group. CP had reportedly been to the site for a dive once before, just two weeks earlier. CP was also rescue certified. This isn’t as reassuring as it might sound, though. According to newspapers at the time, CP was only rescue certified for Open Water. He wasn’t certified for caves or for caverns.

The Tragic End

After enjoying a thorough exploration, all three successfully re-emerged from the water, took off their masks, and regrouped. Whoever they were, I can imagine there was much excitement and discussion about all that was just seen and experienced below. Based on the timeline, it looks like the group took a short break at this point. It would have been sometime between 1 and 2 pm, so there’s a good chance they had lunch then.

Even without knowing their identities, one can easily imagine the familiar sight of three friends out in nature, doing what they love, enjoying a scenic lunch together as they get ready to head back into the cave. The serenity of the image is heartbreaking, given what was about to happen.

At 2:15, CP, the experienced diver who had brought an additional set of air tanks, decided not only to return to the cave but to go for another dive. The other two people in the group could not join CP as they did not have any air tanks left. Once again, it’s easy to imagine the scene—CP waves and says, “I’ll see you guys in a bit.” CP’s friends wave back and say, “Have fun,” straps on the mask, sinks below the water, and that’s it. CP will never be seen alive again.

Since their previous dive was fairly long and since scuba dives generally take at least a half-hour or so, it was probably a good while before the other two, KK and CM, got really worried. But we can be certain they did at some point after CP never resurfaced. They called 911. Tragically, because there were no air tanks left, KK and CM were unable to try and look for their friend themselves. Things were looking really grim by the time rescue crews arrived. There was still no sign of CP.

Searching an underwater world such as the one found in Devil’s Den is an unusual and arduous process. The search may have easily lasted for hours, especially considering where it was that CP was eventually found. CP was at the very, very bottom of the pool. In fact, CP had made contact with the slit on the floor of the cave.

The prevailing theory appears to have been that this obscured CP’s vision, causing CP to get turned around and end up stuck in something called a bed plane passage. In layperson’s terms, this is essentially two large walls that are very close together.

According to reports from the time, the bed plane passage CP was found in was only two feet high, even more narrow when you’re wearing scuba gear. Chillingly, the rescue crew found what were described as clawing marks in the bed plane passage where CP was found.

The Warning and the Lessons

It’s frustrating that there isn’t more information on this case. It would be nice to know the names of the people involved, as that would allow us to know more about their backstory and more about what may have happened following this tragic incident.

What we do know is that this marked a dark and decisive shift in the attitude surrounding this fabled scuba site, which at that time was still quite new to public awareness. Today, there is a warning sign inside Devil’s Den that is almost shocking in how direct it is. It advises divers from swimming any further and features a picture of the Grim Reaper, scythe in hand. The sign describes how more than 300 divers have died in caves just like this one. It also warns that it can happen to you. Lastly, it says with spine-tingling intensity that there is nothing in this cave worth dying for. How true that is.

As incredible a place as Devil’s Den is, and as worth visiting as countless people find it to be every year, it is not at all worth it to take any kind of risk here or push anywhere beyond one’s qualifications. It is absolutely horrific that it should be the place where someone’s life unexpectedly and abruptly comes to an end. Because, as was surely the case with KK, CM, and CP, it starts out as being a place of wonder and memorable experience among friends.

Then, out of nowhere, one of those friends is simply gone forever. We may never know exactly what happened with CP, but we can take note of the story and keep in mind the dangers of exploring such alien environments as these. We’re all blessed to live in a world where such extraordinary places can be seen and felt firsthand, but safety always has to come first.

In conclusion, Devil’s Den is an incredible cave in Williston, Florida, known for its natural beauty and unique underwater exploration opportunities. While it attracts numerous visitors from around the world, it has also seen its share of tragedies. The cave, once believed to be a portal to hell, turned out to be an underground river filled with prehistoric fossils. In the 1970s, scuba diving became popular, and Devil’s Den became a sought-after diving site.

However, in 1990, three scuba divers ventured into Devil’s Den, and only two returned. The experienced diver, CP, went for another dive but never resurfaced. Despite search efforts, CP was found at the very bottom of the pool, trapped in a narrow passage. This tragic incident marked a turning point in the perception of the cave, leading to the installation of warning signs emphasizing the dangers of cave diving.

While Devil’s Den remains a popular destination, it serves as a reminder of the risks associated with exploring underwater caves. Safety should always be the top priority, and venturing beyond one’s qualifications can have devastating consequences. The beauty and wonder of places like Devil’s Den should be enjoyed responsibly, ensuring that everyone can return safely from their adventures.

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What is Devil’s Den and where is it located?

Devil’s Den is a cave located in Williston, Florida, USA. It is known for its natural beauty and unique underwater exploration opportunities. The cave was named after its appearance, resembling a hole that was believed to lead straight to hell by early settlers.

Why is Devil’s Den considered unique and intriguing?

Devil’s Den stands out due to its captivating scenery and the presence of prehistoric fossils, including saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, camels, and even human remains dating back more than 7,000 years. It has a rich history and was neglected for many years until it was rediscovered and repurposed as a recreational scuba diving site in the 1970s.

What makes Devil’s Den an ideal spot for scuba diving?

Devil’s Den offers several features that make it popular among scuba diving enthusiasts. The water temperature remains constant at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) throughout the year. The cave’s unique shape, resembling an inverted mushroom, provides a fascinating underwater exploration experience. Additionally, its natural beauty attracts visitors from around the world

Has Devil’s Den been associated with any tragedies?

Unfortunately, Devil’s Den has witnessed tragic incidents. In 1990, three scuba divers entered the cave, and only two returned. The experienced diver, identified as CP, went for another dive and never resurfaced. After an extensive search, CP was found at the bottom of the pool, trapped in a narrow passage. This incident marked a turning point in the perception of the cave, leading to the installation of warning signs emphasizing the dangers of cave diving.

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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