The Tragic Incident at Weeki Wachee Springs: The Ordeal of Marson Ashley K

The Tragic Incident at Weeki Wachee Springs: The Ordeal of Marson Ashley K
Incident LocationDiver Full Names
USA, Burkeville, Florida, Weeki Wachee SpringsMarson Ashley K

Cave diving is an inherently dangerous activity. 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. An expensive hobby that comes at a steep price from time to time. Divers die doing what they love doing most. This is Marson Ashley K’s story. There’s a place located in Burkeville, Florida, along Highway 19.

The Beauty and Danger of Weeki Wachee Springs

The place boasts a natural wildlife spring that attracts many year-round, accompanied by one of the world’s most intricate and dangerous cave systems that lures the curiosity of cave divers. Weeki Wachee Springs is a natural tourist attraction located in Weeki Wachee, Florida. The spring was named Weeki Wachee by Seminole Indians, which means “little spring” or “the winding river” in their language. On November 1st, 2008, the state park of Florida took over Weeki Wachee Springs as a state park.

From May 22nd to August 20th of the year 2007, the discharge level at Weeki Wachee Springs dropped to a level that allowed cave divers to gain effective entry into the cave system located underneath the springs. The CAST Underwater Research Team successfully executed exploration dives and the necessary in-water decompression to explore approximately 6,700 feet in multiple passages, with an average depth of 265 feet of freshwater and a maximum depth of approximately 407 feet. This makes the cave system under Weeki Wachee Springs the deepest known freshwater cave system in the United States. However, as beautiful and majestic as they are, they can be quite dangerous and even deadly. There have been numerous deaths in the spring over the years, which goes to show that nature can be quite lethal.

Marson Kay’s Passion and Tragic Accident

Marson had two loves: working on computers and cave diving. Having had a successful IT career for six years working in Information Technology for Life South Community Blood Center, he continued to pursue his passion for diving. Marson was described by his family and friends as a daredevil who enjoyed cave diving, surfing, and even tried his hand at skydiving. Personal recounts from his mother record a time when she expressed her dislike for the sport to Marson. He replied, “Mom, if I ever die, caving is the thing I love the most.” On March 31st, 2012, 29-year-old Marson K was conducting a research dive with the CAST Underwater Research team in Weeki Wachee’s main spring area.

The Tragic Accident

He, along with five other divers, entered the water shortly after 4:30 pm and descended into the springs to an open cabin area about 175 feet down. The open cavern contains several tight rock formations at a depth of about 100 feet, which would be the cause of Marson’s horrific demise. The following information, based on eyewitness and forensic evidence, provides some insight into this tragic accident. Wikiwachi Spring is extensively developed into a tourist attraction that features underwater mermaid shows with a submerged observation area. Following the last mermaid show of the day, the group geared up and prepared to execute their dive.

It takes many hours of planning to carry out this dangerous exploration that takes them miles back into a cave. On March 31st, 2012, an enthusiastic Marson K, now a two-year veteran of the CAST volunteer team, accompanied by the crew, was performing a series of dives at Wikiwachi Springs, which included entering and exiting the cave system. They entered the water just after 4:30 pm and swam 178 feet below the surface. The water was peaceful on top with a deep blue hue. Turtles and fish swam around the man-made decorations and air hoses. The spring pool measures 165 feet east to west and 210 feet north to south. The spring has an intimidating entrance that is deep, accompanied by an outrageous flow of water that cannot be described. Finally, a massive and beautiful cave below that only a handful of people have had the opportunity to experience, and Marson and his team were about to witness as they descended into the Wikiwachi waters.

The Fatal Decision

Following a successful dive into the cave at 180 feet, Marson signaled to the team that he was now exiting the maze of tight formations. To exit the cave, one must get out through the miserable entrance, which is the more daunting task of the system. To leave, one must ascend from 180 feet through a horrible flow of water. From that point, a half-inch braided wide 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 of an inch, is placed in the largest easement leading to a depth of 68 feet, where daylight can be clearly 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 effects 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. This condition typically 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.

The Failed Rescue

Although safety divers were in visual contact and additional safety gas cylinders were in place, Marson 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. His fellow divers tried to pull him, but couldn’t. Although Marson was still moving at this time, he did not directly respond to these communication attempts. They quickly swam to the surface and alerted the other researchers. A rescue dive team plunged back into the water, but when they reached Marson just three minutes later, his mask was on his forehead and his regulator was out of his mouth. He had already died. 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. The medical examiner determined that Marson did not drown, as some initially speculated. The cause was an air embolism from surfacing too fast. An embolism is essentially an air bubble that blocks an artery and cuts off the blood supply to part of the body. In Marson’s case, authorities say the bubble became lodged in his heart and prevented blood from flowing into his lungs.

The Dangers of Cave Diving

Yet another tragic ordeal that highlights the dangers of cave diving. Cave diving is always a risk, a risk many are willing to take. It’s unfortunate that inevitably lives will be lost in the process of pursuing their passion. But we can appreciate that they died doing what they loved, something not everyone can say they experienced.


Where did the incident at Weeki Wachee Springs occur?

The incident took place at Weeki Wachee Springs, located in Burkeville, Florida.

Who was involved in the incident?

Marson Ashley K, a cave diver, was involved in the tragic incident at Weeki Wachee Springs.

What caused Marson’s demise?

Marson’s death was caused by an embolism resulting from ascending too rapidly from depth during the dive.

How common are fatalities in cave diving?

While fatalities in cave diving are unfortunate, they do occur as the activity carries inherent risks.

Patrick Broin
Patrik, a seasoned cave diver, shares his first-hand experiences and expert insights on the treacherous world of cave diving accidents.
All diving accidents