The US Coast Guard called off what had been an intensive six-day search for scuba instructor and former Coast Guard officer Thomas “Tommy” Faulkenberry yesterday (7 August), pending any new information.
The diver had disappeared on the afternoon of 2 August from the wreck of the USS Gen. Hoyt S Vandenberg, seven miles off Key West, as reported on Divernet.
The Vandenberg is the USA’s second-biggest artificial reef. The 156m troop-transport and missile-tracking ship was scuttled for divers 14 years ago and has a maximum depth of 42m.
Faulkenberry 44, from Stock Island, was a dive instructor for Lost Reef Adventures in Key West and was diving from the operator's boat Dream Cat. Crew reported to the Coast Guard that he was overdue back from a dive at around 10.13am, some 53 minutes after he had last been seen.
According to one of two crowd-funding sites set up to help the diver's family, his dive had been undertaken to hang a decompression tank on a line. The Vandenberg site can be subject to strong currents.
“This was a tragic accident,” stated Sector Key West Coast Guard commander Capt Jason Ingram. “Diving is an inherently dangerous activity. Mr Faulkenberry’s passion for the sea is well remembered by the dive community here in the Keys and my deepest condolences are with his family at this difficult time.”
Faulkenberry had himself previously served in the Coast Guard for nearly 20 years. Search and rescue services including the Coast Guard, US Navy and Army dive teams, the National Guard, Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission had spent a combined total of 152 hours covering a search area of about 4,300 square miles – the estimated size of Connecticut, said the Coast Guard.
A second GoFundMe site was set up for Faulkenberry’s four sons, ranging in age from 15 to 21, by their mother, who described him as “an experienced diver who loved the water”.