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Gilboa Quarry accident leaves pair of divers dead
Equipment failure, panic cited as possible factors

GILBOA, Ohio - Two divers' deaths in Gilboa Quarry in Putnam County yesterday may be blamed on near-icy waters, equipment failure, diver error, or a combination of all three.

And the fact a third diver might survive may be the result of a coincidental training exercise nearby.

"This is what we train for," said Lisa Rittinger, a member of the Midwest Technical Recovery Team, a Detroit-based group of volunteer divers who specialize in underwater recovery efforts.

Several members of the team were training at Gilboa yesterday when they saw a panicked diver.

That diver, Jason Balsbough, 21, was one of three from the Dayton area who were diving together at the quarry, known for its deep-diving, sunken airplane and other diver attractions.

The dead were identified as Sherry Eads, 43, of Brookville and Daniel Frendenberg, 21, of Union. Mr. Balsbough, a Clayton resident, was listed in fair condition at Lima Memorial Health System.

Sheriff James Beutler, a diver himself for many years, said icing in the regulators of Ms. Eads and Mr. Frendenberg may have set into motion other problems, including diver panic.

"We think the equipment failure was the onset of everything else," the sheriff said. But he cautioned that the investigation is in preliminary stages.

According to authorities, the three divers entered the deep side of the quarry about 10 a.m. yesterday in about 38-degree water. All three had "a couple of years" of diving experience, the sheriff said.

It was not clear, he said, how the three knew each other or if they'd dived earlier this year. The 14-acre stone quarry, according to its Web site, opened April 1.

The trio had dived to about 107 feet when Ms. Eads' and Mr. Frendenberg's regulators began icing up, the sheriff said.

He said the process is similar to the frost that collects on a windshield and it can prevent the inner valves of a diver's regulator from closing as they should. The result is the sudden rush, or free flow, of air through the diver's mouthpiece.

Seeing his companions in trouble, Mr. Balsbough tried to first help Mr. Frendenberg with his backup regulator, then Ms. Eads.

As Ms. Eads and Mr. Balsbough began to surface, Mr. Frendenberg dropped out of sight. The Midwest recovery divers, already suited up and ready for training drills, pulled Mr. Balsbough and Ms. Eads to safety. Mr. Balsbough told rescuers about Mr. Frendenberg.

Mr. Balsbough and Ms. Eads were rushed to the Lima hospital, where Ms. Eads was pronounced dead.

Meanwhile, the Midwest divers pulled Mr. Frendenberg from the bottom of the quarry, in about 128 feet of water, shortly after 11 a.m. He also was taken to the Lima hospital, where he was pronounced dead by the Allen County coroner.

The Lucas County Coroner's Office will conduct autopsies, Sheriff Beutler said.

A man who answered the phone at the quarry referred all questions to the sheriff, who said quarry staff "run a tight ship," ensuring divers fill out appropriate paperwork and follow the quarry's safety rules.

Contact Robin Erb at:
or 419-724-6133.