Friends who set out to explore the 'Everest' of cave systems found dead
A sign emblazoned with an image of the Grim Reaper makes clear the risk to divers who brave an underwater cave system in the United States.
Tragedy has struck here before.
On Monday, the bodies of two divers were recovered from the extensive underwater network dubbed the "Mt Everest of caving".
Chris Rittenmeyer, 38, and dive buddy Patrick Peacock, 53, were in the Eagle's Nest diving area of Florida with their friend Justin Blakely, who called police to report the missing pair.
@TB_Times You mention that they were ‘experienced’ but were they certified for cave diving?— Mark Dorison (@markdorison) October 17, 2016
Reports say divers often refer to the underwater system as the 'Mt Everest' or 'Grand Canyon' of cave diving.
The friends from Fort Lauderdale were experienced divers who had previously explored the deep cave system, where others have lost their lives over the years.
The Eagle's Nest dive area is in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, part of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. One dive site says the sink cave is suitable for advanced divers only due to the distance from any help and the cave depth.
The Tampa Bay Times reports the divers arrived for a three-day trip at the weekend and their bodies were recovered on Monday.
They had failed to surface, the report said.
Deputies told the newspaper the men entered the water on Sunday afternoon. Blakely, who was not as experienced, remained close to the surface while the others explored the passageways.
There are around 1.5 kilometres of underwater passages, some to depths of around 90 metres. The treacherous underground cave network in Hernando County - a region renowned for its cave diving - is often dubbed the Mt Everest of diving due to the logistical difficulties of getting to the site, where diving was banned for four years between 1999 and 2003.
Peacock and Rittenmeyer failed to meet Blakely at a previously arranged spot and after waiting and checking he called police. Police said the men's bodies were recovered close to each other at a depth of about 80 metres.
Autopsies were being conducted to determine the cause of death.
Their deaths brought the toll among divers who have succumbed while exploring the site to 10, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section vice chair Sylvester Muller told the Sun-Sentinel the cave network was extensive.
"It's like a Venus fly trap, you get in there and there is so much to see you get distracted and it gets deep quickly."