Tragedy at Radium Springs: The Murray Anderson Cave Diving Incident

Incident LocationDiver Full Names
USA, Georgia, Radium Springs caveLieutenant Murray Anderson

There are a few hobbies in the world that invoke the emotions of cave diving. For the small community that loves to dive, it is an escape and a sense of peace while under the water, traveling through a piece of time that few people will ever see. For those of us on the outside looking in, it is fear, confusion, and a downright overwhelming conviction to never partake in this particular hobby. Yet, there is something about the sport that is downright fascinating. Through history, there have been many divers in caves that were explored with their fair share of incredible stories and tragedies. Yet, where did this fascination begin?

The Navy Lieutenant’s Story

In 1955, a Navy Lieutenant would enter Radium Springs cave system and be the first recorded cave diver to never see the light of day again. This is his story.

The Early Days of Cave Diving

Cave diving is still a relatively new hobby to those around the world. It became popular in the US in the late 1950s and ’60s but was mostly reserved for extremists, as it was seen as an extremely dangerous hobby by the general public. Pioneers such as Sheck Exley and others began mapping and exploring caves, making it a desirable way to spend free time. In the late 1950s, the required gear for cave diving was almost laughable, further building the rapport of early pioneers. While there were cases of free diving or diving into a cave without breathable air, the first cave dive occurred in 1943 by Jacques VES Costello, one of the co-founders of diving equipment. He was also the first man to record a successful scuba and cave dive. The mistakes made throughout the years led to the development of many new procedures and equipment used today.

Lieutenant Murray Anderson’s Dive

Lieutenant Murray Anderson, a 28-year-old experienced skin diver with over 200 hours of experience underwater, was preparing to dive into Radium Springs cave in Georgia. Anderson, a leader in the Macon Georgia Skin Diving Club and a Navy Frogman, had some experience as a cave diver. He was accompanied by his best friend and fellow club member, Donald Garu. Radium Springs, the largest natural spring in Georgia, held a hidden underwater cave, accessible through a small passage. The cave was a honeycomb structure, stretching for over 1,532 feet, with various passages and dead ends.

The Current State of Radium Springs Cave

Radium Springs Cave

Currently, the cave is closed off to the public, with only a select few divers permitted access for research and documentation purposes. Even when the cave is open, divers are usually allowed to travel only a couple hundred feet before turning around due to the dangerous nature of the underwater maze. There is a set dive line at the entrance of the cave for this purpose, as the state of Georgia considers the cave too perilous for recreational divers.

Exploring the Cave

Anderson and Donald planned to enter the cave together but explore different passages to cover more ground. They were aware of the risks involved but were determined to map the cave. Anderson, using a homemade diving rig with oxygen tanks, and Donald entered the cave through a three-foot restriction at the bottom of the spring. They laid the dive line as they progressed through the cave, being cautious not to disturb the sediment and silt out the cave. Everything seemed to be going well, with Donald reaching the 200-foot mark and preparing to turn around. However, Anderson continued swimming with a smile on his face and entered a small restriction, straying from the dive line.

Anderson’s Fateful Decision

Anderson explored multiple passages, hoping to find a new route through the maze-like cave. As visibility worsened and frustration grew, he made a final attempt to find a new passage before turning back. Swimming through the muck, he felt a sense of stress and defeat, but he pressed on. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by darkness as his homemade flashlight failed. Panic set in, and Anderson kept swimming, hoping to find his way out of the maze.

Concern on the Surface

Back on the surface, Donald grew increasingly worried as Anderson had been underwater for over an hour. He should have surfaced by now, and Donald realized something had gone wrong. He waited anxiously, hoping to see Anderson emerge, but there was no sign of him.

He was sure he had to do something. This was not like the Anderson he knew. It was dark outside when help arrived. It was Anderson’s fellow club members and fellow divers, Jim Britton and an unnamed diver. Donald teamed up with the other two, and the three of them re-entered the Radium Springs cave in the dead of night. They made quick work through the cave, but visibility was horrid. They could only see a few inches in front of their faces. Yet, they started searching at the end of the 200-foot dive line. They were their friend’s last hope.

A couple of hours passed by, and the group of three were still grasping for anything. They continuously reached their hands out over and over through the silt, but again and again, each passage presented no results. If they stayed any longer, they would risk their own safety. And so, with heavy hearts, all three members turned around defeated. All three retired. But Donald had the worst of it. He was exhausted. After he reached the surface barely with enough strength to even pull himself out of the water with the gear on his back, his breath was labored, and his eyes sunken. He always had hope, but admitting defeat sucked everything from him. He couldn’t accept that his best friend was gone. This was no longer a rescue but a body recovery.

A Navy team was flown in the following day from Charleston, South Carolina, to help with the body recovery. And on Sunday morning, one day after Anderson had entered the cave, they prepared to go into the maze. Hundreds of people watched from the hotel and casino just above the spring. As nobody had ever heard of a tragedy such as this, they couldn’t believe that someone was willing to go into an underwater cave. Visibility for the rescue team was fantastic, and they could see for several feet through the unmistakable blue water. Only 30 minutes after entering the cave, they had reached the 200-foot mark, and there he was. Anderson was floating near the roof of the cave, his body still as if frozen in time as the water moved around him. His regulator was no longer in his mouth, and his flashlight dangled around him. The dive line lay just a few feet below him. Donald and the other two Macon diving club members had swum under Anderson the night before several times, but since the cavern was so large, along with the poor visibility, they never knew. They had searched for hours, and he was only a few feet above them.

The rescue team pulled Anderson from the cave at roughly 8 A.M. on Monday, 15th, so his friends and family could say their goodbyes. His death led to a lot of changes in the diving community as it was the first publicized death in the United States. And being a 28-year-old Navy Frogman only led to the push for change. It was an imperative lesson in the creation of cave diving rules, such as always using a dive line, having three flashlights, and the rule of thirds. Although his death was a tragic event that was published around the country through many newspapers, it adapted modern diving today. Radium Springs cave never recovered, and this tragedy is a big reason why the caves are so closed to this day for recreational divers.


Is Radium Springs cave open to the public for diving?

No, the cave is closed off to the public due to its dangerous nature. Only trained divers are allowed.

Who was the first recorded cave diver to perish in Radium Springs cave?

Lieutenant Murray Anderson

What led to the changes in the diving community after Anderson’s death?

Anderson’s death led to the implementation of cave diving rules, such as using a dive line, three flashlights, and the rule of thirds.

Why is Radium Springs cave considered perilous for recreational divers?

The cave has a complex maze-like structure and poor visibility, making it risky to navigate without proper training and equipment.

What is the current status of Radium Springs cave?

Only a select few divers are allowed access for research and documentation purposes, and even then, they are restricted to a limited distance due to safety concerns.

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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