Key Largo wreck ‘Spiegel Grove’ claims Orlando diver’s life


Monroe County dive team members located the body of a missing diver from Orlando last week who was last seen deep 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, Florida.

The missing diver was identified by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office as Joseph Dragojevich, 43, a captain with the Lake County Emergency Medical Services.

Deputy Becky Herrin, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said divers found Dragojevich’s body inside the ship at around 1:30 p.m. Friday. But they have not retrieved the body, nor have they positively identified it. The retrieval process could take hours, Herrin said.

Dragojevich’s body will be taken to the county Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy after it is recovered.

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

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

About 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Dorminy reported Dragojevich missing to the crew of Scuba-Do. 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 launched a search by boat, but the missing diver was not found at the surface.

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 to find their way 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 okay. 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.

Gerald Smith, executive director with Lake EMS, said Dragojevich had been with the department for 15 years and was a district chief. “He goes way back,” Deputy Chief Ralph Habermehl said.

Dragojevich had a girlfriend and two adult children with an ex-wife.

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