Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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Man dies while diving Spiegel Grove wreck

The search ended Friday for a longtime Lake County paramedic and diver who vanished at the Spiegel Grove artificial reef Thursday.

Crews recovered the body of Joseph Dragojevich, 43, from inside the wreck at 1:30 p.m. Friday, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

The 14-year veteran and captain with Lake County Emergency Medical Services near Orlando, went missing about 4:15 p.m. Thursday while diving with a friend, according to the Sheriff's Office.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine cause of death.

"He is an experienced diver and everyone knows him as a very strong diver and a very fit man," said Lake County Emergency Medical Services Human Resources Manager Lourdes Lebron. "He is a very optimistic person who has a passion to save lives. He did it with pride and compassion and instilled that in his employees."

Dragojevich and his friend, James Dorminy, 51, of Kissimmee, were diving with six other divers with the Scuba-Do Dive Co., 102670 Overseas Highway.

Both were doing a penetration dive on the wreck without a guide as the other divers reportedly did not intend to enter the 510-foot Navy ship that was intentionally sunk in 2002, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Dorminy surfaced after losing sight of Dragojevich and searching unsuccessfully for him in the ship.

Dorminy told Sheriff's Office dive team Sgt. Mark Coleman they attached a reel line when they entered so they would be able to find their way out, reports say.

They explored several levels of the ship before beginning their exit, following the line. Dorminy said he was in the lead and Dragojevich was reeling in the line behind him. Dorminy last saw Dragojevich signal with his dive light that he was alright, but looked back at him again and lost sight of him when the line went slack, reports say.

Dorminy swam back and found the line tangled, but no sign of Dragojevich as he searched before surfacing due to lack of air.

The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were first to search and were joined by divers Friday from the Sheriff's Office and Key Largo Fire Department.

Six people have died on the Spiegel Grove since it was sunk 11 years ago.

Most recently on March 16, 2007, three of four divers from New Jersey died during a penetration dive on the wreck that is about five nautical miles off Key Largo and 135 feet deep on the bottom.

One member of the 2007 group, Howard Spialter, 52, made it safely to the surface. Kevin Coughlin, 51; Jonathan Walsweer, 38; and Scott Stanley, 55, did not.

Their deaths and recovery grabbed national headlines, prompted online debates about the dangers of extreme diving and renewed local efforts to adopt more strict safety standards on wreck diving.

• In February 2006, David Hargis, 48, of Kansas City, Mo., died after surfacing in distress.

• Tarik Khair-el-din, 44 of Indiatlantic, Fla., died in April 2005 after he was found about 100 feet from the wreck with no air in his buoyancy compensator (commonly known as a BC) or in his dive tank.

• In April 2003, 48-year-old Eunice Lasala, of Fredericksburg, Va., reportedly lost consciousness just moments after entering the water above the wreck. Dive guides tried to revive her using CPR but she was declared dead by paramedics once ashore.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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