Cave diver pulled to surface barely alive

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Posted by on September 13, 2005 at 06:43:43:

The Tampa woman wasn't breathing and had no pulse, but was revived. She was diving in the infamous Eagle's Nest, where two divers died last year.

BAYPORT - Dan Pelland just wanted to take some pretty pictures late Sunday afternoon.

But Pelland hadn't realized the spot he chose to shoot photos was next to Eagle's Nest, one of the world's most renowned cave diving systems.

Pelland pulled up shortly before 5 p.m. when diver Rudy Banks ran up to his car and begged for him to call 911 on his cell phone. He did.

Then Pelland and Banks ran to the water's edge, where another diver was pulling Banks' dive partner, Judi Bedard, from the water.

"She was obviously in trouble, hemorrhaging from her eyes and ears, foaming from her mouth," Pelland recalled.

They cut Bedard out of the harness that held her scuba tanks and pulled her up onto the dock. She wasn't breathing. She had no pulse. Banks and Pelland began CPR. After 15 to 20 minutes, Pelland said, her heart came back to life.

Soon after, she started breathing, he said, but she did not regain consciousness.

Bedard, 48, who works as a registered nurse at Tampa General Hospital, was in critical condition Monday evening at Shands, the hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"Judi is a free spirit. She's just got so much heart," said Charlene Armstrong, who lives across the street from Bedard on a narrow red-brick street in Port Tampa.

The close-knit neighborhood was in shock over the diving accident, Armstrong said. A couple of neighbors were in Gainesville on Monday night watching over her, while others are taking turns walking Bedard's dog, a brindle boxer named Ellie.

Reports from the hospital were worrisome, Armstrong said Monday evening: Bedard's heart stopped and had to be restarted three times.

Armstrong said Bedard loves nature and often takes diving trips to Mexico and other exotic diving locations. She painted a seascape on her mailbox, a scene of fish and seagrass.

The certified cave diver was flown to Shands because it has a hyperbaric chamber, said state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Greg Morse.

The chamber is a tool to treat decompression sickness, also known as the bends, and air embolisms. Both are dangers scuba divers face when diving in deep waters.

Morse said investigators think Bedard might have had an equipment malfunction at Eagle's Nest. She and Banks, 52, of Williston are experienced, certified cave divers and have several other diving certifications.

Bedard had descended to the bottom of a cave, about 130 feet down, when she had "some sort of problem that caused her to become disoriented," Morse said. She became unconscious as Banks brought her to the surface, he said.

Pelland, 56, said he had been trained in CPR when he worked for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Chicago, but he had never had to use it.

Hernando County Fire Rescue workers transported Bedard from the remote location in a pickup truck because an ambulance couldn't make it there, Pelland said.

Five divers have died at Eagle's Nest since 1981, and cave diving has killed about 400 people since the early 1970s, according to industry records.

Last year, the caves claimed the lives of Spring Hill's Craig Simon, 44, and his friend John Robinson Jr., 36, of St. Petersburg. They drowned in the caves on a dive in June 2004. But the site remains popular and attracts divers from around the world. One experienced diver described Eagle's Nest as "one of the Mount Everests of cave diving."

On the surface it is an ordinary-looking pond about 200 feet across. Below, however, is a mile of charted passages, one of them 300 feet deep. The cave system includes the "Main Ballroom," an awe-inspiring cave about 400 feet long and 200 feet across.

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