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Dead Andrea Doria diver identified

by NEIL STRATTON
NANTUCKET, Massachusetts (1 Aug 2008) — 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.

An expensive trip

J.T. Barker, 51, helms the dive boat Under Pressure, which runs mostly nontechnical divers to sea for expeditions out of Hatteras, N.C., and Virginia Beach, Va. He used to ferry divers to the Andrea Doria site, but stopped in 2001 because the expense of the trips became prohibitive.

Barker said that while he can’t speak to DeWolf’s level of experience, of the prior 14 diver deaths at the famous wreck, “there were some of them that shouldn’t have been there.”

Funeral arrangements for DeWolf had not been finalized as of Friday afternoon, Amanda DeWolf said.

She said that while it “turns her stomach” to look at her family’s backyard pool, she will carry on her father’s legacy.

“I will later scuba just to continue his dream of how he wanted things to be,” she said.

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