Origins and Organizations – (Parker Turner)
Article by Parker Turner June 26, 1991
The WKPP grew out of the exploration of upstream Sullivan Sink in 1985. There was no formal organization though a standard philosophy toward equipment and techniques began to emerge. In 1986 Bill Gavin exposed Parker Turner to the techniques developed by him and Bill Main during the Upstream dives. Turner had already been inspired by tales of the earlier explorations of John Zumrick, Sheck Exley, and Paul Deloach and their attempts to connect downstream Sullivan to the Emerald cave system. Dr. Zumrick passed the survey data on to Gavin and Turner and they began to organize an attempt to connect the caves.
Gavin developed new techniques and equipment, and Turner contacted decompression expert Dr. Bill Hamilton who produced a set of trimix tables for the project. Explorers Bill Main and Lamar English along with Turner and Gavin would make up the primary dive team while professional surveyor, Bill McFaden (then chairman of the NACD Exploration and Survey Committee) would act as support diver and cartographer. After many dives from both directions Sullivan was connected to Emerald and at 41,000 ft., became the longest underwater cave in the world.
Tragically in May 1988 Bill McFaden drowned 50 ft. short of the entrance of Little Dismal Sink after being overcome by a series of problems during a mapping dive. Bill Gavin, who was working in another part of the cave repeatedly rescued McFaden from problem after problem nearly losing his own life in the process. Organized cave diving was stunned by the loss. Turner was appointed Chairman of NACD E&S Committee in place of McFaden. Saddened and shocked by McFaden’s death the members of the connection team began to formulate a loose set of agreements regarding deep cave diving procedures.
On June 19th 1988 Gavin, Main, Turner, and English traversed from Sullivan to Cheryl sink, breaking the world’s records set by the British at the Kelds Heald U.K. and John Zumrick at Promise sink USA. Later Turner negotiated continued access to the Leon Sinks Geological Area, by drafting a set of standards regarding mixed gas diving and exploration and research of caves in the protected zone. The permit is issued to the NACD E&S Committee and signed by Turner.
In September 1989, Turner was appointed Cave Diving Coordinator for FSU. While working in this capacity, Turner became further convinced of the need for organization and standards for deep cave exploration. The original members of the connection team were joined by Sherwood Schile and Steve Irving, who using the old Sullivan techniques rapidly proved themselves on deep gas dives in the Forest and at Innisfree Sink.
Unable to utilize their NACD affiliation to seek funding, the Sullivan Divers applied for project status from the NSS. On October 24, 1990 Dr. Art Palmer on behalf of the NSS, welcomed the WKPP as an official NSS project.
At the January 1991 Board meeting the NACD turned over complete supervision and control of exploration and research diving in the Woodville Karst Plain to the NSS WKPP. recreational access was permitted to the NACD based on a permit program designed by Turner. The WKPP serves as the qualifying agency for Exploration and Research in the Appilachicola National Forest.
Exploration continues today with The Leon Sinks Cave System reaching 48,754 ft. In response to their commitment to safety and professionalism, FSU’s Academic Diving Program has issued reciprocity to the WKPP.