Tragedy at Eagle’s Nest: Craig Simon and John Robinson’s Risky Dive Ends in Disaster

Tragedy at Eagle’s Nest: Craig Simon and John Robinson’s Risky Dive Ends in Disaster
Incident LocationDiver Names
West Central Florida, USA, Eagle’s NestCraig Simon and John Robinson

Two friends, Craig Simon and John Robinson, decided to explore one of the most dangerous expert-level dive sites in the world – once again, the Eagle’s Nest. Many divers, even professionals, always avoid this cave unless it’s necessary. No diver was willing to dive with John, which made Craig accept the offer, even though it was against his wife’s wish. Would this be a decision they would live to regret or just another walk in the park?

Expedition Eagle’s Nest sinkhole is a highly advanced cave diving location situated in West Central Florida and notorious for being one of the most perilous diving sites across the globe. There have been numerous fatalities in the cave network, and only adequately trained experts who have firsthand knowledge of the cave’s layout should even consider entering. The sinkhole is located in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, an area renowned for having some of the most remarkable underwater cave systems globally.

From a surface-level perspective, Eagle’s Nest sinkhole is not a visually impressive site, resembling a green pond overrun with algae in a swamp. Unlike neighboring springs such as Buford Springs or Weeki Wachee, the water in Eagle’s Nest is not inviting, as it is murky and appears to be teeming with alligators, swarms of mosquitoes, and ticks. There are few reasons to linger and no signs of breathtaking natural wonder lurking below the surface. Nonetheless, for the handful of daring adventurers who possess the ability to safely navigate Eagle’s Nest, it is an underwater paradise, a world-class cave system boasting stunning scenery.

Eagle's Nest map

The visibility in Eagle’s Nest is highly variable and heavily influenced by current conditions, such as the state of the Florida aquifer and recent rainfall levels. Cave divers use a message board to record dive conditions, with reports ranging from unlimited visibility to zero visibility, making it like diving by Braille. Occasionally, the water can be dyed with natural tannins, resulting in dark water, while other times, when conditions are optimal, the water is completely clear, making it feel like you’re in another world. Eagle’s Nest is both captivating and thrilling but also dangerous, representing an extremely advanced and perilous cave dive that only experienced and certified experts should attempt. It’s easy to become lost in the cave system, and there is no safe section where divers can orient themselves.

The cave is notorious and unforgiving, requiring local knowledge and firsthand experience, even among experts. In some places, the cave is so narrow that divers must squeeze and squirm through claustrophobic openings, making it a struggle to pass with their diving gear. However, this feature makes it dangerous and has tragically claimed the lives of many untrained and unqualified explorers who have been drawn to the site.

36-year-old John Robinson was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and he had an undying love for diving. His passion for exploring underwater began to grow during his days at the University of Florida, where he pursued a master’s degree and also learned to dive like a pro. In the early ’90s, after working in California, John realized his heart was still in Florida and returned.

To kick-start his career as an electrical engineer, but his love for diving never waned. Every weekend, he found solace in the caves. Thanks to his certification as a cave diver, he was so meticulous with his gear that his friends often teased him for his obsession. But he didn’t care. He knew the risks of cave diving in Florida and wasn’t willing to take any chances.

Despite his parents’ worries about the potential dangers of cave diving, John was a master at his craft. Then he met Craig Simon through a mutual friend. The two quickly bonded over their love for diving and the technical aspects involved. They went on numerous dives together and formed a great friendship.

Craig Simon

Within the first year of their partnership, Craig Simon, 44, was born in Manhattan, and he was a charismatic Italian who loved the great outdoors. It was in New York City that he first heard of scuba diving, and from then on, he was hooked. Intrigued by every aspect of the sport, he poured himself into researching it and eventually moved to Florida to indulge his passion for nature diving. Quickly, diving became one of Craig’s favorite hobbies, and he became a certified diver. But he didn’t stop there. Craig was a man who dreamed big. He longed for a career that would allow him to be outside and not chained to a desk all day. And his dream became a reality when he founded a landscaping business.

Craig adored his wife and three sons, and when he wasn’t exploring the depths of the ocean, he would spend quality time with his family. But as passionate as he was about his business and his loved ones, diving still held a special place in his heart. After 20 years of experience, Craig decided to take his love for diving to new heights by getting more serious about cave diving. He was quickly welcomed into the tight-knit cave diving community, forming close bonds with local divers such as John Robinson and the legendary Paul Heinerth.

Craig looked up to Paul as a diver because he had an impressive record of cave explorations worldwide dating back to the 1970s when he first dove Eagles Nest. Paul was a pioneer in open water and cave diving, having instructed for the National Association of Cave Divers and The National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section for over 36 years. Even National Geographic had taken notice of his work in Florida, Mexico, the Bahamas, and even Antarctica.

On one fateful day, John and Craig had a harrowing experience in a cave that shook them to their core. John, a seasoned cave diver, suffered a panic attack while exploring the water-filled cave and came dangerously close to drowning. Thankfully, Craig was able to calm him down and bring him back to the surface. But they both knew that they had dodged a bullet. The close call left them traumatized, and they took a break from diving to recuperate and reflect on what had happened.

However, they were not ready to give up their passion just yet, and after some time, they felt ready to dive again. But Craig’s wife was understandably worried about the safety of her husband and warned him not to dive with John again. Craig knew that John was an excellent diver and a trusted friend, but the previous incident had made him wary. He promised his wife that he would not go with John again.

The Allure of Cave Diving: Craig’s Next Adventure

A week before their planned dive, John revealed that no one else was willing to dive with him. Craig felt torn between loyalty to his friend and his wife’s fears. He remembered how John had taught him everything he knew about diving and how cautious and safe he had always been before the incident. In the end, Craig decided to take the risk and joined John on their next adventure to one of their favorite sites, the Eagles Nest cave system.

On Saturday, June 12, 2004, Craig and John met at the Eagles Nest cave for their planned exploration. They prepared for their exploration of the farthest parts of the Eagles Nest downstream tunnels by using a combination of chemicals that granted them two and a half hours of air inside the cave. Their dive plan involved a total of 40 minutes from the beginning of their descent to the end of their ascent, which included the necessary decompression. Their goal was to reach a distance of approximately 1800 feet inside the cave with a maximum depth of 300 feet.

To ensure a safe trip, they had a sufficient amount of air supply that would last the estimated duration. In addition to this, they had high-quality dive scooters that allowed them to travel through the passages much faster than regular swimming. With the help of the scooters, they were able to reach a deeper part of the cave. They also brought stage tanks, which are extra air bottles used for decompression, to monitor their dive information in real-time. They both wore wristband dive computers, which provided them with the necessary information for a successful dive.

The Start of the Dive: Descending into Eagles Nest

They began their exploration of the Eagles Nest at around 1 pm. As they descended through the first cave passage, they took the time to stage their decompression tanks before continuing their descent into the cave. After descending approximately 40 feet, they squeezed through a narrow chimney resembling an hourglass and into the ballroom, which is known as the entrance room. This large chamber measures 150 feet wide and has major passages leading to both upstream and downstream sections of the cave.

Craig and John decided to follow the downstream tunnel, which gradually descended to a depth of 200 feet before abruptly dropping down a pit to 290 feet, leading to a series of spacious rooms and passages. They planned to spend some time exploring these rooms beyond the pit before returning to the entrance room for decompression stops at 200 feet and again at the entrance room.

John’s Pocket: A Confined Area in the Cave

They eventually arrived at John’s Pocket, one of the most confined areas of the cave. This place was exceptionally small and could provoke feelings of claustrophobia. Suddenly, Craig veered away from the guideline to investigate whether the narrow part of John’s Pocket was an uncharted tunnel. After some time had passed, Craig and John failed to return to their pre-planned check-in time of 3:30 PM, causing concern among nearby divers at Eagles Nest. One of them noticed that Craig and John had not used their stage bottles, which immediately raised alarm bells.

He searched inside the entrance to Eagles Nest but found no sign of the two divers. Worried for their safety, he called for help. Shortly after receiving the call for assistance on Saturday at around 3:30 PM, members of the Pasco and Citrus County underwater recovery teams, along with volunteers, quickly arrived at the entrance of Eagles Nest to search for Craig and John. However, they soon realized that the conditions were beyond their capabilities and called for certified cave divers to assist in the search. Approximately 40 rescue divers were summoned to take part in the operation.

The Rescue Operation: Mobilizing for the Search

Paul Heinerth personally assured Craig’s family that he would find Craig and John. As he entered the cave, he moved quickly yet cautiously, scanning for any signs of his friends. Eventually, he found himself in John’s Pocket, a particularly cramped and unsettling part of the cave. There, his light caught sight of John’s diving scooter, partially buried in the silty floor. Next to it lay John’s body with his gear still operational but his air tanks empty. With the help of support divers, John’s body was removed from the cave.

Larry Green inspected John’s dive computer and concluded that he may have become disoriented by the silt and unable to find an exit. Ultimately, he became trapped in the room. Despite attempting to exit, John was unable to do so and was found in a position indicating he was trying to leave the cave. The rescue divers searched thoroughly but could not find any sign of Craig. It was peculiar that they were not together.

Due to severe lightning and thunderstorms, the search had to be postponed for another day. The divers also needed some rest as the operation could become more dangerous without it. During the break, they took time to regroup and decompress from the deep dive search attempts. John’s parents were informed about their son’s death by the sheriff’s deputy after returning from a visit to their friends.

The search for Craig resumed on Monday afternoon. The operation was risky as the divers went more than 100 feet below the surface with compressed air, which made them vulnerable to the disorienting effects of nitrogen narcosis while searching. Rescue diver Larry Green experienced decompression sickness after diving 300 feet on three consecutive days. He was treated in a decompression chamber overnight and released the next day.

The divers planned to conduct a more comprehensive search by diving deeper into the cavernous area, about 300 feet below ground, which could take up to six to eight hours. The two-person teams conducted several more dives that day, but Craig was still nowhere to be found. The next day’s search was delayed until 5 PM due to the rain, and Craig’s family anxiously waited at the muddy edge of the dive site.

The Heartbreaking Outcome: Recovering Craig’s Body

Despite encountering challenges, Paul was determined not to give up on the search for Craig. Upon reaching John’s Pocket, he opted for a different route and eventually spotted Craig’s body tangled in the line while suspended in water. However, Paul did not see a guideline when he discovered Craig’s scooter, but that doesn’t imply that there wasn’t one. Paul noted that having a scooter makes it tempting to take a quick look at something without running a line. However, this increases the risk of kicking up silt and things going wrong fast.

As he ascended with Craig’s body, Paul was overwhelmed with sadness for Craig’s wife and children. Typically, it’s challenging for close friends of lost divers to participate in the search due to the many theories about what could have gone wrong. Unfortunately, the truth behind Craig’s demise will likely remain buried deep in the deadly cavern. While investigators did not suspect faulty equipment as the cause of John’s death, Paul Heinerth emphasized that one cannot stray from the fundamental rules despite how tempting it may seem.

Although it’s sad to hear about the loss of two talented individuals, let us use this unfortunate incident as a reminder of the risks involved in cave diving. As divers, we must prioritize our safety and always follow the guidelines to avoid any potential danger. Let us honor the memory of these men by diving responsibly and ensuring our well-being.

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What is Eagle’s Nest?

Eagle’s Nest is a highly advanced and perilous cave diving site located in West Central Florida.

Why is Eagle’s Nest dangerous?

Eagle’s Nest is dangerous due to its narrow passages, unpredictable visibility, and the risk of becoming lost in the cave system.

Who were Craig Simon and John Robinson?

Craig Simon and John Robinson were two friends who were experienced divers and decided to explore Eagle’s Nest together.

What happened during their dive?

During their dive, John became trapped and drowned in a confined area of the cave, while Craig’s body was later found tangled in a line.

What should divers remember from this incident?

Divers should prioritize safety, follow guidelines, and be aware of the risks involved in cave diving to avoid accidents and ensure their well-being.

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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