Sep 12, 2005

Diver pulled from sink; in critical condition


WEEKI WACHEE - A Tampa woman was flown to Gainesville Sunday after she nearly drowned while diving in the Eagle's Nest, a popular cave frequented by some of the best divers in the nation.

Judy Bedard, 47, was in critical condition Monday at Shand's Teaching Hospital in Gainesville, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Bedard, along with a friend, Rudy Banks, 47, of Williston, were diving in the Eagle's Nest Sunday after noon. The isolated sink is a world-renowned cave system popular with underwater cave divers. It's located between Bayport and Weeki Wachee off State Road 550, an extension of Cortez Boulevard.

According to Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, the pair was 130 feet under water in the cave system when an accident occurred.

"We don't know what happened for sure," Morse said.

Authorities believe Bedard may have suffered an equipment failure, while navigating through the dark, murky chambers of the cave.

Banks told authorities he pulled his partner up and out of the cave system and onto dry land. Bedard was not breathing when she was first pulled from the water, Morse said.

Two other divers who were in the area performed CPR on the woman, and were able to get her breathing again.

She was immediately flown out of the remote site to the Gainesville hospital, which is equipped with a hyperbaric chamber.

Morse said both her and her partner, who lives in Williston, a small town near Gainesville, were certified cave divers with additional training.

The cave system is popular with cave divers because of its deep natural caverns.

Last year, two underwater divers died while exploring the cave system. Craig Simon, 44, of Spring Hill, and John H. Robinson Jr., 36, of St. Petersburg were both recovered from the cave.

Robinson was found in the cave Saturday, June 13, 2004. Underwater caved divers found Simon two days later after a massive search.

Reporter Cliff Hightower can be contacted at (352) 544-5287.

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