Exploration of underwater New Mexico cave turns deadly

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Santa Rosa (US), Apr 1: An experienced California diver who was helping with the exploration of the narrow underwater passageways that radiate from a well-known swimming hole in eastern New Mexico has died, authorities said.

The initial investigation suggests 43-year-old Shane Thompson's death below the Blue Hole, a tourist destination in the community of Santa Rosa, was an accidental drowning. Police Chief Jude Gallegos said Thompson was among 10 or so people from the ADM Exploration Foundation who were at Blue Hole for a multiple-day exploration.

Mexico

The group had been working on surveying the underwater cave system since 2013. Thompson dove into Blue Hole on March 26 with another experienced diver, Mike Young, Gallegos said. They planned to have Young enter part of the cave system while Thompson stayed outside in a safety role. Instead of staying outside, Thompson entered, Gallegos said.

"Apparently something went horribly wrong, and he started to panic," the chief said. The divers were about 160 feet below the surface when the incident happened. It still was unclear yesterday what went wrong. It could be weeks before autopsy results are available, the state Office of the Medical Investigator said. No more exploration is planned of the underwater cave system at Blue Hole, said Curt Bowen, president of the exploration foundation.

"The cave system below is walled out. That means there is no cave passage left to explore," he said in an email. "We mapped everything we could fit through, and it ended in a tight rock breakdown at a depth of 194 feet." Because of the extreme environment within the cave system, the city accepted the group's recommendation that the cave system remain off-limits to the public.

The divers covered and secured the grate at the bottom of the bell-shaped swimming hole to prevent untrained divers from gaining access. Family members said yesterday they were struggling with Thompson's death, but they acknowledged that diving was what he loved to do and that he had earned numerous certifications during his lifetime.

A Navy veteran, Thompson began diving at a young age while growing up in the Florida Keys. After earning his first certification, he went to work for an underwater construction company and later started numerous diving businesses that focused on everything from boat maintenance to salvage work and training.

AP

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