Tragedy for scuba diver challenging the Mount Everest of diving

August 3, 2008

It really saddens me to report on yet another tragedy from the oceans. Believe me we do not talk many of them but here is another case of a scuba diving trip going horribly wrong. We have had people suggest that scuba is not extreme – purveying an air that it is just like a stroll in the park. IT IS NOT. And it doesn’t matter whether its 20 feet or 200 feet you just must take into account that when scuba diving you are in an environment where you do not belong – it thereby invites tragedy, as in this case, if something goes wrong. Do not be complacent, always err on the side of caution and respect that you are in an alien environment – please.

To get a true picture of what Houston diver Terry DeWolf was trying to do when he lost his life exploring the wreck of the Andrea Doria this week, think of touring a museum at least 230 feet from the nearest breathable oxygen and at least 50 miles by water from the nearest hospital.

The site, deep in the Atlantic Ocean south of Nantucket, Mass., is the grave of 51 people who lost their lives when the luxury liner collided with another ship and went down more than 50 years ago.

It is also considered the Mount Everest of diving, a perilous plunge of more than 200 feet to the seabed that now, with DeWolf’s death, has claimed the lives of 15 divers.

“It’s a pretty dangerous dive,” said Capt. Ed Ecker of the East Hampton Town Police Department. “I don’t want to speculate, but what generally happens is that they either get the bends or something goes wrong with the equipment.”

On Monday, the dive boat John Jack sailed out of Sportsman’s Dock in Montauk, N.Y., ferrying DeWolf and nine other divers to the site of the wreck as part of the 2008 Andrea Doria Expedition, a charter led by Richard Kohler, a famous diver and television personality who gained fame on The History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives program.

The first divers hit the water Tuesday at noon. DeWolf went in Wednesday around 7:50 a.m. CDT with the day’s divers, but didn’t return as expected about four hours later.

“Some of the divers went back down and ended up recovering his body,” said U.S. Coast Guard 1st District public affairs officer Connie Terrell.

Coast Guard helps out

The John Jack’s crew was assisted by a detail from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Hammerhead, an 87-foot cutter dispatched when Joseph Terzuoli, captain of the John Jack, sent out a distress signal. From there, the John Jack brought DeWolf back to Montauk. Terzuoli’s wife, Susan, said he was unavailable for comment Friday as he helmed the John Jack back to its home port of Brick, N.J.

Ecker said there would be an autopsy at the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office in Happauge, N.Y., and that the toxicology report would be forthcoming.

“They have to check his tanks and so forth, and with the tanks it could take a couple months,” Ecker said.

DeWolf headed Tri-Tek Communications Inc., which touts itself as “a full-service provider of turnkey solutions to the telecommunications, cable television and various other industries” on its Web site. He and his wife, Tammy, were married 18 years and had three daughters: Amanda, 17; Christina, 15; and Kaitlyn, 12.

Amanda said she is soldiering on because “the crying has all gone out of (her) system.” A family member said DeWolf had been diving for more than 20 years.

Ann Keibler of Houston-based dive shop Oceanic Ventures Inc., confirmed that she knew DeWolf but would not confirm that she had dived with him or comment further, citing the family’s wishes.

Interest in Andrea Doria

In October of last year, DeWolf went on a trip to the Cayman Islands and brought back an ornate glass chandelier that seems to have piqued his interest in the Andrea Doria.

The Italian luxury liner, which sank in 1956, is popular with divers not only because of the technical challenges it presents, but because it is considered a trophy dive: The wreck, now deteriorating rapidly, is dotted with relics such as embossed china cups and dishes.

“He liked really unique things that told a story by (themselves),” Amanda DeWolf said of her father.

Typically divers who make deep, dangerous dives to sites like the Andrea Doria are “technical” divers, who are more highly trained and use more advanced equipment than “nontechnical” divers, who seldom venture deeper than 130 feet.

DeWolf family photo

Terry Sean DeWolf, head of Tri-Tek Communications, died Wednesday after diving to the Andrea Doria shipwreck.


The Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria sank in 1956, claiming 51 lives. Today, the shipwreck is considered the Mount Everest of diving. Fifteen divers have died attempting to dive the shipwreck.

Our sincere condolences go out to the DeWolf family and my thanks to Neil Stratton of the chron.com who first reported this story


One comment

  1. Just wanted to thank-you for an incredibly accurate, and honest account of what some of us do. I had the fortune of running a trip to the Doria, exactly one week to the day prior to Terry’s unfortunate passing. Our trip, thankfully went off without a hitch. Aside from some bad weather, everyone returned safe and sound.

    It is unfortunate also, that some people take our sport lightly, and disregard all need for proper training, and experience to execute the dives they are trying to do. This story is a perfect example of someone who, even though, has the necessary skills, still succumbs to the sea.

    Thanks again for sharing this tragic, but incredible story.

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