Body of EMT found in sunken ship after diving accident

Joseph Dragojevich, 43, was a 14-year veteran and captain with Lake County Emergency Medical Services near Orlando


The Miami Herald

KEY LARGO, Fla. — The body of a missing diver from Orlando was found Friday afternoon inside the USS Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot Navy ship that was intentionally sunk in 2002 as an artificial reef about six miles off the coast of Key Largo.

While an exact identification has not been made yet, the diver is believed to be Joseph Dragojevich, 43, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. He was a captain and district chief with the Lake County Emergency Medical Services, where he worked for 15 years. He has two children: Joseph Dragojevich II, 21, and Allison Dragojevich, 19.

Photo WFTV.com
Joseph Dragojevich

Photo WFTV.com
Joseph Dragojevich

Dragojevich’s body was found about 1:15 p.m. Friday. It will take several hours to retrieve, and then it will be taken to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy to determine the cause of death. His equipment is also being recovered and will be examined for information that could help detectives piece together what happened inside the ship, said Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

Dragojedich was diving Thursday afternoon with his friend, James Dorminy, 51, of Kissimmee, on a commercial charter boat owned by the Key Largo-based Scuba-Do Dive Co. There were six other divers on the boat, but only Dragojevich and Dorminy conducted a “penetration dive” inside the wreck on their own with no guide from the dive company.

Scuba-Do’s dive master on the trip, Kimberly Chapman, told a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy that the passengers were briefed before entering the water that there would be no penetration of the Spiegel Grover 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 Siegel Grove with guide reels.

In 2007, three experienced divers from New Jersey perished inside the Spiegel Grove while doing a penetration dive during a charter with Scuba-Do. The dive company has been in business since 1986, according to its website.

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 before they entered the mammoth ship, which below is a maze of dark, narrow passageways and claustrophobic rooms not meant to be penetrated by divers because of the danger.

The real line was supposed to guide the divers back out of the ship.

Dorminy told the officers that the men 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.

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 for as long as he could for Dragojevich before being forced to surface with his air running low.

The Friday underwater search and body recovery was conducted by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team and the Water Emergency Team of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department Dive Team.

Four divers with the Sheriff’s Office searched the outer, sandy areas of the wreck first. Technical divers with the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department searched next and found Dragojevich.

The two groups worked together in March 2007 on another risky search to recover the bodies of two divers from New Jersey who apparently got lost inside the pitch-black pump room, which originally had been blocked off from divers by the group that sunk the ship.

The bodies of Jonathan Walsweer, 38, and Scott Stanley, 51, were retrieved inside the ship. Kevin Coughlin, 51, also died as he tried to reach the surface. The fourth member of that diving group, Howard Spialter, 52, survived.

Copyright 2013 The Miami Herald
All Rights Reserved

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