The young man in a swimming suit was lying lifeless at the bottom of a fissure on the floor of Morrison Springs, a popular underwater cave in Walton County, Florida. If his eyes had been open, he would have been staring straight up at me. But mercifully, his eyes were shut, as in sleep.
My diving buddies from the Georgia Tech Aquajackets dive club and I were breathing air from scuba tanks at about 110 feet sea water. We were in a portion of the cave that received no indirect light from the cave opening. Without the cave lights in many of the diver’s hands there would have been total darkness.
Who knew that on my second so-called “open water” dive I would find myself deeper than 100 feet in a cave, using the dispersed light from my buddies’ dive lights to examine a very fresh looking corpse? He looked to be about our age, late teens, high school or college age. A rock outcropping hid his body from about mid-hip level down. But the top portion of a bathing suit, his lean stomach, chest, and boyish-looking face and head was plainly visible.
There must have been some current at the bottom of the crevice because his brown hair was waving gently, being the only sign of motion from the deathly pale white boy with closed eyes, waiting patiently to be recovered to the surface.
I and the other divers stretched our arms and shoulders as far into the crevice as we dared, reaching towards the young man, hoping we could grab onto some part of his body. But it was futile – he was at least a foot out of our reach. Finally, checking our dive watches, we saw it was time to swim toward the cave entrance and start our ascent.
Since there was no scuba gear on him he must have been a free-diver, a breath-hold diver who entered the cave then passed out and sank to the deepest, most inaccessible portion of the cave. As I and the other divers rose along the limestone borders of the cave I watched the darkness surround the young man’s cold body once again. I felt lonely, almost as if I could feel his spirit’s loneliness.
As I reached the surface I turned to the closest diver, removed my regulator from my mouth, and panted, “How are we going to recover that body?”
His response stunned me.
“What body? That was no body – that was a Navy 6-cell flashlight!
How could it be? I would have signed a sworn affidavit to the police describing everything I had seen, in detail, just as I’ve reported it to you many years later. The visual details, the textures, the emotions will not leave me.
But they were not real.
As for why that happened, the only thing I can assume is that for a nineteen-year old novice diver, descending in the dark to 110 feet, in a cave, might be just a bit more than the diver’s mind is prepared for. The nitrogen in air is narcotic if found in high enough concentration, so I was undoubtedly suffering from nitrogen narcosis. Plus, at the time the entrance to the Spring was macabre, with a large photo of a diver with his back filleted open by a boat propeller, and signs prominently displaying warnings of the large number of fatalities in the cave from poorly trained and equipped divers exceeding their limits.
My mind was prepared to witness tragedy, and the normally mild nitrogen narcosis of 110 feet may have been just the trigger needed for a vivid hallucination.
I have had no hallucinations since then, from diving or anything else, except for one medical procedure reported on in this blog. But what remains remarkable to me was my absolute conviction that what I had seen in that cave was real. Consequently, I now know very well that what people testify as being real, whether they are diving or not, may in fact be only imagined.