This is the first of a two-part series about the mysterious disappearance of Ben McDaniel, a certified open water SCUBA diver that has been missing since August 18, 2010. The missing persons case remains open.
It’s a story that strikes fear into the heart of every diver: going down and never coming back up. Such is the story of Florida diver Ben McDaniel, who went on a solo cave dive in the summer of 2010 at Vortex Spring, a popular freshwater recreational site for divers and swimmers alike. Although he never resurfaced in society, no trace of him was ever found in the spring or the cave, despite ongoing efforts of police and qualified divers. This unsolved mystery has become the subject of two projects that will be released to the public in the upcoming months. One is a Discovery Channel show entitled “Disappeared,” and the other is a feature documentary called “Ben’s Vortex,” produced by one of the industry’s most respected female divers, Jill Heinerth, and her husband, Robert McClellan.
Becoming an open water diver at just 14, Ben McDaniel is remembered by friends and family as a fearless individual who was passionate about his hobbies, particularly SCUBA diving. Seeking more of a challenge than his open water certification offered, McDaniel decided to try his hand at cave diving, a certification which would have required about two months’ training and 125 logged dives with an instructor or cave-certified dive buddy. Despite the well-known dangers of cave diving and the necessity of proper training, he went ahead on the dives without it.
On the day of the fateful dive, August 18, 2010, McDaniel entered the spring just before sunset, unaccompanied by a dive buddy. On his way into the cave, he was passed by two divers on their way out, one of which was a commercial diver who works for Vortex Spring. Eduardo Turan had come to know McDaniel in the weeks previous to his disappearance as a regular diver at Vortex, and knew that he was gaining access to the cave by jimmying the locked gate that separated the cave from the common areas of the spring. Only cave-certified divers are given a key to the gate, which McDaniel did not have. That day in August, Turan turned around and unlocked the gate for McDaniel. On previous dives, Turan would sometimes wait for the sight of McDaniel’s bubbles at the surface, as an indication that he was decompressing and okay. Turan and the other diver did not wait to see those bubbles this time, and no one knows if there ever were any.