Edd Sorenson helps improve the odds of cave-diving rescues
It was 2012. Four cave divers had gone into the water at Merritt’s Mill Pond in the Blue Springs Recreation Area near Marianna in northwest Florida. Only three came out.
That prompted a call to Edd Sorenson.
“We were at the park and in the water in less than 15 minutes,” says Edd, who operates a dive shop nearby. “While my assistant grabs my gear, I jump in the truck. He says, ‘Go, go, go,’ and as I’m driving 100 miles an hour, I look in the mirror and he’s laying in the back of the truck with my gear. He’s back there, literally screwing regulators in. That’s how dedicated he is.”
After entering the water and reaching the cave where the diver was last seen, Edd searched through murky waters, looking and listening for signs of life.
“When I first saw him, I thought he was dead already,” Edd says. “I saw his legs dangling. But he had his face in this air pocket. It was only about 2 feet across and 8 inches high.”
Edd got a regulator to the lethargic diver and prepared him for their exit.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to get you out.’” Edd says.
He kept that promise.
“I have a pretty good reputation in the cave-diving community,” he notes.
A legend among cave divers, Edd holds an amazing record of saves.
Rescues of lost cave divers are rare. Unfortunately, Edd says, 99 percent of searches turn into recovery efforts. There are only a handful of successes.
Edd has made five successful rescues—more than anyone else in the world. He became a local hero in 2012 after making four rescues, saving five divers.
For his efforts, Edd was presented with the Diver’s Alert Network Hero Award, Heroic Merit Awards and was named Instructor Trainer of the Year from the Professional Scuba Association International.
His assistant, Frank Gonzalez, also received a Heroic Merit Award for his efforts in that 2012 rescue near Marianna.
Minutes can mean the difference between life and death for a diver in distress. The time saved by Frank’s quick actions in the back of the truck were key, Edd says.
“The air in that pocket would have only lasted a few minutes,” Edd explains. “Those minutes he saved were crucial. My guys are just amazing. It really is those guys who make me look good.”
Media outlets sought Edd’s expertise repeatedly this summer when he responded to call after call to discuss the intricacies of the effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand. CBS, Live Science, the British Broadcasting Corp., the China Global Television Network, Agence France-Presse and others interviewed Edd.
While the event in Thailand was not technically a cave dive rescue, Edd says it had its own set of daunting challenges.
For any rescue to be successful, a thousand things must go just right in a situation where a million things can go wrong, he notes.
Edd credits his success in part to the proximity of his shop, Cave Adventurers, to Blue Springs Recreation Area—a well-known cave-diving area.
“Our shop is right on the water, and I always have my gear ready to go,” he says.
His preparedness and comfort level in zero-visibility water also are keys to his successful rescues, but “most of it is just good luck,” he adds.
Soon after moving to Marianna from Oregon in 2002, Edd began supporting not only the dive community, but the larger community.
“I had planned on moving to the Bahamas,” Edd says, “but I picked Florida. I was coming to Florida about three times a year, but it wasn’t until 2002 that a friend brought me here. It was great.”
Edd loved Florida’s caves, which he terms “fairly technical,” and was ready to explore them more often.
“When I bought the house, I was just going to move here and go cave diving,” he says. “But when I looked around, the closest place to get my tanks filled was 50 miles away.”
The impetus for setting up his shop was meeting his own diving needs, but he soon found he filled an important niche for others in the diving community.
“People just started showing up,” Edd says.
They are still showing up.
Since 2002, Edd has introduced divers from 26 countries and all 50 states to the network of pristine dive sites below Merritt’s Mill Pond. He is sought after as an instructor and a guide.
In addition to being a source of equipment, Cave Adventurers offers a variety of training courses through a network of affiliated instructors.
“I’m probably in the water 275 to 300 days a year,” Edd says. “If I don’t go diving every day or two, I get grouchy.”
On dry land, Edd is known and respected as an ambassador for the area, promoting tourism and resource protection. Soon after relocating to Florida, he was instrumental in organizing river cleanups, hazardous waste amnesty days and other programs to protect and improve the waterways.
“I did a lot of volunteer work and within a short time was asked to serve on the chamber board and the tourism development council.”
He has been reappointed to those boards.
But most of Edd’s time is devoted to preaching safety in the water. He laughs when recalling one diver’s comment about keeping safety gear at hand.
“He said, ‘I always carry a safety reel because an Edd Sorenson won’t fit in my pocket,’” Edd says.
Edd is happy to have been close enough to play the role he has in rescues many have called miracles.
While defying the odds has earned him a reputation as a hero, he says he is just as happy when he is teaching safety techniques to students, introducing divers to new underwater adventures or touting the beautiful natural assets of his adopted home state of Florida.
“Maybe I was just put on this earth to help people,” Edd says. “I’m OK with that. That’s the way my dad taught me. You do what you can.”