Family ponders fate of Collierville man who disappeared near cav - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Family ponders fate of Collierville man who disappeared near cave

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COLLIERVILLE, TN -

(WMC-TV) - Family members believe the body of a Collierville man who disappeared during a dive trip to Florida last summer may be trapped in an underwater cave.

Ben McDaniel, 30, disappeared at Vortex Spring in August of 2010.  His parents, Patty and Shelby, along with this brother, Tim,  live on a farm in Collierville.

Ben was an expert at deep water diving and wanted to be an instructor.  Vortex Spring was an ideal place to train, with a deep underwater cave – an exciting thing for an adventurer like Ben.

No one knows what happened to Ben. For weeks, family members say, he wanted to explore deep inside the cave - a place with a sign that warns divers to beware they could lose their life.  There's a locked gate on the entrance to the cave, a long tunnel with some parts so narrow a diver has to put his tanks in front of him to get through.

Only divers certified to enter the cave can go in, and they must have a key to unlock the gate.  Ben McDaniel was not certified, and employees at Vortex Spring told investigators they believe he may have tampered with the gate to gain access. Ben's family believes someone left the gate unlocked.

One thing is for certain, however: Ben never came back up.

"Our faith in God is what has really got us through this," said Ben's mother, Patty. "It's really taught us to take one day at a time, and sometimes minute by minute."

Investigators have not determined how or if Ben actually got inside the cave.  For months, specially trained divers have made dozens of attempts to find any sign of him, each time re-surfacing with more questions.  According to family members, there is no sign of his equipment, or of foul play.

"There are all kinds of possibilities he could be somewhere else," said Capt. Harry Hamilton of the Holmes County Sheriff's Office. "Again, we want to rule out this one location, and it's an extremely hard location to get to.

In an interview last month with reporters in Florida, investigators noted theories Ben may have disappeared on land, not in the water.

Some have speculated Ben faked his death, but those who knew him say that's not possible.

"There's no indication that he walked off," his mother said. "He had too much going for him to do that. He left his money, his cell phone, his truck, his dog."

Now, the McDaniels are raising money to hire an experienced diver willing to risk their own life to travel the entire length of the cave, video tape it, and possibly bring Ben's body home.

"If another one of these divers were missing, Ben would go down there for them," his brother said.

If you want to contribute to the McDaniel's reward for information that brings Ben's body home, click here.  You'll find contact information for the family through a foundation set up to honor their first son, who passed away.

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