Tragedy at Jackson Blue: The Unfortunate Tale of Harry F. Millissa’s Ill-Fated Cave Dive

Tragedy at Jackson Blue: The Unfortunate Tale of Harry F. Millissa’s Ill-Fated Cave Dive
Incident LocationDiver Full Name
USA, Florida, Marianna, Jackson Blue SpringsHarry F. Millissa

A crucial point is highlighted: “when you do it without the certification you may be chewing off way more than you can handle; it’s like flying a plane without being trained to fly.” Tragically, numerous divers have lost their lives in Jackson Blue Springs, and a common factor among these incidents is the lack of cave certification among those who face trouble. At 24:28, we delve into the story of Harry F. Millissa, an incident that underscores the necessity of cave certification in underwater exploration.

Harry F. Millissa: Background and Passion

Harry F. Millissa, aged 48, hailed from Lancaster, Ohio, born in 1959. He spent most of his life in Lancaster, but the past five years saw him residing in Marianna, Florida. A dedicated family man, he had a loving wife named Pat, two daughters – Stephanie and Katrina Melissa. Professionally, Harry owned and operated “Air Services,” a successful business specializing in automotive paint booth design and construction. Beyond his work, Harry had a passion for diving. He held an Open Water certification for over two decades, but notably, he lacked the required Cave Diving certification. Despite this, he frequently explored caves like twin caves and hole in the wall at Merritt’s Mill Pond in Marianna.

Significance of Cave Certification

Cave certification holds paramount importance in the realm of cave diving due to the distinctive and demanding nature of cave environments. Unlike open water diving, cave diving involves navigating tight spaces with limited visibility and potential hazards. This certification imparts specialized training and knowledge that equips divers to tackle the unique challenges posed by cave exploration.

The Ill-Fated Dive: March 5th, 2007

On March 5th, 2007, Harry Melissa and his friend Gordon Smith embarked on an afternoon of diving. Both had the requisite equipment, but only Gordon had a basic cave diving certification. They swam across a shallow Eel Grass bed near the spring entrance before entering the cave. The cave’s powerful water flow, akin to swimming against a swift river current, posed a challenge. Harry took the lead as they ventured inside. They navigated through the cavern zone, adjusting their buoyancy to counter the water’s flow.

Entering the Cave Depths

Upon passing a stop sign marking the end of the cavern zone, they entered the cave’s exclusive realm. This is where cave diving’s distinct challenges begin. As they explored a side passage, disaster struck. Harry became stuck in a small opening, and Gordon couldn’t free him. Panicked, Gordon surfaced and called for help. Harry was trapped 700 feet from the entrance, alone and struggling.

The Tragic Consequences of Inadequate Certification

Harry’s lack of cave certification played a pivotal role in his reaction to the dire situation. His panic led to him removing his gear, including his oxygen tank, which ultimately resulted in drowning as he tried to escape the cave. Expert cave diver Ed Sorensen was called in for the rescue. He found Harry’s body deep within the cave.

The Ongoing Tragedy and the Importance of Certification

The Jackson Blue Springs cave has witnessed several tragic deaths due to the absence of proper cave certification. Approximately 8 to 12 lives have been lost due to this oversight. Harry’s story stands as a stark reminder of the consequences of entering caves unprepared.


As this harrowing tale concludes, it underscores the criticality of cave certification. It’s not just a formality; it’s a lifeline. Proper training provides divers with the skills and knowledge required to navigate safely through challenging cave environments. Harry’s unfortunate experience serves as a cautionary tale against venturing into caves without proper preparation. This has been a gripping account, a reminder of the potential consequences of disregarding safety protocols.


Jackson Blue Springs

Jackson Blue Springs is a natural underwater cave system in Marianna, Florida.

Why is certification important for cave diving here?

Certification is crucial due to tight spaces, limited visibility, and potential hazards.

How did Harry F. Millissa’s incident happen?

Harry got stuck while exploring a side passage without proper cave certification.

How many lives have been lost at Jackson Blue Springs?

Around 8 to 12 lives have tragically been lost due to the lack of certification.

What’s the key lesson from Harry’s story?

The importance of proper cave certification and preparedness can’t be overstated.

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