As an experienced diver and certified scuba instructor, Milton Floyd knew the dangers of surfacing too quickly. He also knew the potential risks of helping another diver in trouble.
"The rule is, if someone is in distress, you never make a second victim," his wife, C. J. Floyd, said Monday. "Milt knew that."
But on Saturday, Floyd and two experienced diving companions blew through decompression precautions while ascending from about 200 feet below the surface of Lake Wazee in west central Wisconsin.
Within hours of racing to the surface, Floyd, 60, of Minneapolis, was dead. So was James Jordan, 57, of Eagan, who had a heart attack while surfacing with Floyd.
The third diver, Milos Squires, 53, of Chaska, was treated for hours in a hyperbaric chamber at Hennepin County Medical Center and then released. The chamber, where Floyd also was treated, is used to eliminate the deadly nitrogen buildup in divers who surface too rapidly.
As the Jackson County Sheriff's Office sought to piece together what happened, investigators and medical experts are sure decompression illness brought on by the rapid ascent factored into the two deaths.
As Floyd's widow also looked for answers, she considered the possibility her husband bypassed decompression protocols because his friend Jordan was in trouble.
She has been analyzing the diving computer from his gear, seeking clues about what happened below the surface. She said the computer indicates her husband was making a normal ascent until something happened about 60 feet below the surface.
"If that is what happened, then so be it," said C.J. Floyd, who was with her husband when he died. "But I don't know if we will ever know what happened."
Floyd's wife said he was a certified scuba diving instructor for the past eight years. He took up diving at her behest in preparation for a New Year's cruise in 2001-2002.
"From that point on it was a love that you could not have stopped," she said.
A rare occurrence
Death from decompression illness is rare. Usually, spending a few hours in a hyperbaric chamber within a few hours of surfacing cures the problem, commonly called "the bends."
Experienced divers know this, which might explain why Floyd and Jordan took a chance and surfaced so quickly to deal with Jordan's heart attack.
"He wasn't going to leave his buddy," C.J. Floyd said. "I have to believe he thought he would be all right because he would never knowingly leave me. Milt just fell into that one-half of 1 percent" who don't survive decompression illness.
Floyd said her husband's dive computer indicates he had gone down to near 200 feet. The computer also indicates he was making a normal ascent, had a problem at 60 feet, then later shot up to the surface from 40 feet.
"The only way you would bypass those [decompression stops] is if something is tragically wrong," said Gary Shaleen, owner of Fantasea Scuba and Travel in Burnsville.
Tom Blehm of Hastings, who has done many training dives at Wazee, said divers are taught to take care of themselves when faced with a severe medical emergency, such as a heart attack, especially at such depths.
"If he was an instructor, he really knew his stuff," Blehm said. "They would teach you to let him go and save yourself."
Lake Wazee, with areas as deep as 350 feet, is considered one of the premier deep-water diving spots in the Midwest.
Jackson County authorities have determined that while Floyd and Jordan were diving to about 200 feet, Squires was at about 140 feet when trouble began.
Sgt. Mike Johnson said the three men were conscious, but in distress, when they surfaced. He said boaters and fishermen helped the group to shore.
Upon reaching shore Jordan was conscious and talking, but soon went into full cardiac arrest on the beach. C.J. Floyd said two other divers gave him CPR on the shore.
Jordan died at Wisconsin's Black River Memorial Hospital. Floyd died at HCMC despite treatment in the hyperbaric chamber.
Squires and Jordan's families could not be reached.
People who knew Floyd, a religious man, said it would not be out of character for him to put his life in danger to help a friend, especially Jordan.
"He and Jim were very close friends," said the Rev. Tamara Rottschaefer, pastor of Lake Harriet Christian Church in Minneapolis, where Floyd was an elder. "He was passionate enough about diving. Milt may have known he was endangering himself. But his love for his friend was greater. He would have gone that extra mile."
Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280