Dragojevich, who also worked as a flight paramedic, came to the Keys with Dorminy. They booked a commercial dive trip with Scuba-Do Dive Company of Key Largo for Thursday afternoon, which turned out to be a beautiful day for exploring the Navy shipwreck and all of its marine life. There were six other divers on the boat, but only Dragojevich and Dorminy conducted a “penetration dive,” which they did without a guide.
Warnings up front
Scuba-Do’s dive master on the trip, Kimberly Chapman, told a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy that all eight passengers were briefed before entering the water that there would be no penetration of the Spiegel Grove or “decompression diving” during this trip.
In the sheriff’s office report, Chapman stated that Dragojevich and Dorminy told her that they were entering the engine room on the Spiegel Grove with guide reels. It’s not clear whether the pair were told not to do so. The three divers from New Jersey also died during a trip run by Scuba-Do.
A woman who answered the phone for Scuba-Do said the company had no comment and hung up.
Slate, who has written several SCUBA diving training manuals, said Scuba-Do shouldn’t be blamed. “We as dive operators give divers all the rules and safety regulations, but once they enter the water we have no control what they do,” he said. “It’s sad, but there are no old bold divers.”
Here is how the latest tragedy transpired. At about 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Dorminy reported to the crew of Scuba-Do that Dragojevich was missing. The captain of the boat notified the Coast Guard, which launched a search with a boat crew from Islamorada and an air crew from Miami. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also joined the search.
Dorminy told two officers with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that he and his friend had attached a reel line, which is used as a guide, before they entered the mammoth ship, at its lower levels a maze of dark, narrow passageways and claustrophobic rooms that are not meant to be penetrated by divers because of the danger. Slate said the ship was made safe for divers, with four-foot holes created all over the first three levels to create wide open exits for divers.
The duo explored several levels of the ship, which rests at 130 feet, before beginning their exit. Dorminy was in the lead, with his friend reeling in the line behind him.
Partner’s last look
Dorminy said he last saw Dragojevich behind him, signaling with his dive light that he was OK. When Dorminy looked back again, Dragojevich had disappeared and the line was slack.
Dorminy said he swam back to find the line tangled. He searched as long as he could for Dragojevich before being forced to surface with his air running low.
Dorminy asked to go with the group Friday to help with the recovery, but the sheriff’s dive team members thought it was best for him to remain behind because of his emotional state.
Howard Spialter knows exactly how Dorminy feels. In 2007, he was the only survivor of the group from New Jersey. He knew the way out, but could not get his friends to follow. “It was one of the hardest decisions that one ever has to make,” he said of surfacing to save his own life.
He still loves diving, saying “the diving world is a large brotherhood and sisterhood of people who love to explore, sort of like astronauts.”
And on Friday, Spialter wrote on his Facebook page: “My sincerest condolences to the family. I do know what you are experiencing. May the diver’s memory be for a blessing to all.”
David Goodhue with The Reporter contributed to this report.