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Ben McDaniel. Diver missing from Vortex Springs since 2010

Please note updates on all of MPofA’s stories are put before the original story.  Also make sure to read the interesting comments from readers.

UPDATE 3/31/16 – The Vortex aired on the Discovery channel today  Ben is still missing.

A message from Ben’s dad, Shelby posted on Facebook in 2012:  “Ben, next month, August 18 you will have been missing two years. You are in the back portion of the cave at Vortex Springs or your body was removed and disposed. We have done everything within our power and might to find your remains so we can bring you home to bury over your brother Paul. We have prepared your gravesite so your your bodies will be together. We know in our hearts you two are in Heaven. You both made a big difference in your short time here with us. Your testimonies are awesome! We love you both and miss you so much.”

Latest posts to the McDaniel family in 2014

UPDATE:  April 16, 2012 – The parents of Ben McDaniel decided to take back the reward because that felt it might tempt inexperienced divers to risk their lives in order to collect the money.  Last month, 43-year-old Larry Higginbotham drowned inside the cave at Vortex Spring where McDaniel was last seen.

 Ed Sorenson also searched for Ben.  He went to an area that required him to turn his head backwards to get to.  Sorenson believes if Ben had gone there, there would be marks on the limestone where his helmet or tanks scraped the cave ceiling. There would also be marks in the clay bottom because he would have taken his tanks and swum with one extended in front of his head. Lastly, there would be signs from nature, increased activity from aquatic scavengers, and Ed saw nothing. No limestone scrapes. No clay impressions. No feeding fish or eels.

Another Diver from Australia said that she found what she believes to be Ben’s shovel farther into the caves, in an area farther than any of the other divers went.

Side Note:  On April 1, 2012, Marson Ashly Kay with Karst Underwater Research who searched for McDaniel and said he saw scratches deep in the cave died, after during his ascent, he became disoriented and got stuck in an opening that was too small for him to swim through.

Another theory comes from Lynn-Marie Carty, a Florida private investigator for Reunite People.   She’s gathered criminal records of  people associated with Vortex, including its former owner, Lowell Kelly, who died under suspicious circumstances last month and she found that Kelly was waiting for his trial on charges that he drove an employee into the woods because he thought he stoled $30,000 and then beat him to death with a baseball bat.  Carty believed that the authorities should be investigating the case as a homicide.

“There is just as much reason to look above the water for Ben’s body as there was to look below it in the cave,” Carty said.

Map of cave

Read more here:

Original Story:  Ben McDaniel, 30, from Collierville, Tennessee was last seen at Vortex Springs near Ponce de Leon in Florida preparing to dive about 7:00 p.m. on August 18, 2010.

Two days later, when dive shop employees noticed that Ben’s truck was still parked they notified the authorities.  His keys and valuables were still in the truck.

The International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery Group searched the cave. 

“We do not believe that he is in this cave. No one else could have gotten to the end of the cave or a perceived beyond without having extra bottles in the water to be able to get himself in that far. As small as the environment gets the further you get back, you can’t carry those bottles through that. So he would have had to leave them and drop them, until you get to the back; because at the furthest point of this cave, the diver can’t move with anything on” says Larry Green, the Regional Coordinator of the group.

About 300 feet into the cave, the tunnel is sealed by a gate and divers must show the proper certification at the dive shop to get the key.  Some tight spots measure 10 inches from floor to ceiling so that divers must wear tanks on their sides to squeeze through.

Search teams found 3-labeled decompression tanks with McDaniel’s name on them, and a few articles of clothing near the entrance of the cave.  The cave narrows down to inches.

What bothered the investigators is that there were no signs from nature that Ben’s body was in the cave.  No increased activity and no aquatic scavengers.

After many searches they came to the conclusion that Ben was not in the cave.  But Tim’s parents were not satisfied.  They believed he must be deeper into the cave and offered money for someone to dive deeper to find him. 

One hired diver spent 100 hours with a team searching, but Ben was never found.

Later, it came out that Ben owed the IRS over $40,000 dollar.  That, along with a failed marriage and the recent death of his brother, made people wonder if he may have gone missing on purpose.

The whereabouts of Ben McDaniel are still unknown.

A documentary movie called Ben’s Vortex was released in August 2012. The man who composed the music for the film (Ben’s Vortex), Xavier Fleuranceau, died while scuba diving on September 29, 2012.

52 thoughts on “Ben McDaniel. Diver missing from Vortex Springs since 2010

  1. I'll volunteer to search For Ben McDaniel..
    Contact me Ravenna McGhee

  2. Shelby, you might need to call her, as this was almost 10 months ago and she may not check back her and it doesn't bounce to her emails as a reply like it does on Facebook.

  3. My prayers are with this family. I just saw this families episode on ID's show “Disappeared” and my heart went out to them. God Willing that your son will be found.

  4. Did anyone think to blast the cave and then go down to search the rubble? I know this is a very popular diving spot so I'm sure there would be plenty of opposition to even do something like this, but if Ben did get stuck in a small hole or tunnel down there at least it would be safer for everyone involved to search through debris and see if they can locate any remains of Ben. If that yields nothing, then at least the theory that Ben's remains are still in the Vortex can be put to rest and a further investigation can begin on land.

  5. Has there not been any kind of mini, RC sub developed that could be guided through some of these small openings and send back images?

  6. I saw a show on robotic snake cameras made by a man called Chris parker that may be able to go where no one else can fit it may help to try and contact him If I find more info on him I'll send it your way I'm sorry for your loss hope this info helps

  7. it took awhile I found it Dr. Chris A. C. Parker

    Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, UBC

    2054-6250 Applied Sciences Lane

    Vancouver, BC

    Canada, V6T 1Z4


    email: parkerca -at-

  8. Just this episode of dissapeared about Ben. The thing im confused about is why did it take two days for the employees of the dive shop to notice Bens truck?? He went for the dive Wednesday ( i believe from memory) but it wasnt till Friday that they noticed his truck was still parked by the dive shop. How did they not notice his truck onthe thursday, if Ben and his truck were well known to these employees?? My theory is Ben died in the caves Wednesday. On Thursday morning, someone or multiple people from the dive shop discovered Bens body floating in the water. So not to close the diving down for days or weeks with investigations etc. and not to bring negative publicity to that dive company, these people moved Bens body somewhere. Like they hid it at a different location were it wud not be found and then waited an entire 24 hrs. to report Bens truck to authorities. Just a theory ive thought of that i never saw onthe show and havent read any where else.

  9. how about taking water sample from deeper down in the water or what about a medium there are some that work with police

  10. Mr. snd Mrs. McDaniel I am so sorry for your loss.
    I have an uncle who had 3 sons and he lost all of them before they were 18. Cherish the son and grandchildren you have and take comfort in knowing you will all be together again one day.
    Again, I am sorry for your loss.

  11. They said that the map Ben made of his cave diving was irrelevant and didn't look like the vortex cave map that is on hand right now.. what if he found an alternative route beyond the gate and was exploring it him self? He was an adventurer and a risk taker, I am pretty sure he was exploring to find something no one has ever found before. This cave hasn't been fully explored. Ben had a shovel with him that was found at the end where divers could no longer go on.. what if there was an opening and when Ben dug with his shovel and went up it collapsed leaving him stranded.. Just a thought. I will one day go look for him myself. But in the mean time good luck to the McDaniel family and im sorry for your loss. I believe your son found something great and maybe an alternative route, and in order to not shut the cave down for digging and search and maybe for the danger that it is collapsing, they are keeping it a secret.

  12. I don't believe the family. They are very secretive people who expect noting but perfection from their sons. Paul (the youngest brother that died) died from a drug overdose & the parents told everyone Paul died from a “sudden stroke”. The parents had Ben managing their late son's sudden stroke memoriam fund, meanwhile they convinced themselves that Paul didn't die from a drug overdose. I think this family is holding A LOT OF SECRETS! I've read many articles and watched all the documentaries about Ben Mcdaniel, and each time the parents keep telling themselves more & more lies. I think they cannot accept the fact that maybe, just maybe their son Ben was sick and tired of living the lies they forced upon him.
    I feel sorry for Ben.
    I hope he did stage his death.
    I hope he is on a beach somewhere sipping a frozen cocktail & reinventing his life.
    I hope his parents stop lying to themselves & stop lying to all the people out their dedicated in finding Ben.
    Enough is enough.

  13. That is an awesome theory.
    It die make sense.
    But, they did recover video tape from that area and did not see any suspicious activity. But! The video cameras did not record the entire area of where people go in and or out the cave. And maybe the dude that loaned Ben the key to get into the cave felt he would be punished or fired. Although he did pass a lie detectors test, anyone can pass a LDT given the proper training.

  14. Just saw Disappeared.

    I was wondering about the letter that Ben wrote to his mother. Ben's generation is used to writing emails and even more prone to using text messages for communication; hand written letters are not common these days.

    Could the letter have been a way of saying goodbye? Did Ben ever write other letters to his mother? If so, of what nature and frequency? Sorry for her loss.

  15. An ROV was deployed at request of law enforcement and the parents so they could try to understand better, unfortunately it was too big and clumsy. Think 1950's canister vac size tethered to surface controls, power, & video feed by an unwieldy umbilical. The support divers had to guide it and the umbilical got caught on every bend and turn. An ROV can't get anywhere that a good sidemount diver can, & with diver help it go no where near the tight bedding plane. A Go-Pro was used on other dives, this was more effective for giving the family and LEO's a good view of the underwater karst terrain.

  16. There is no side tunnel or other way to progress farther than it was pushed by Edd Sorenson, Jerry and Marson (RIP), & others. So to suggest a snake cam could go farther ignores that a body can't. Its like saying push the snake cam thru a keyhole because the body is inside of the lock. Its physically impossible. Plus its so far back you would need a diver to risk death to run That cam. The cave was pushed, hard, all the way, there were no signs. No diver has pushed farther than Sorenson in there, & he saw no disturbance (but left marks on his way in/out). Edd crammed in chest to back tight and turned his head sideways in the crack to see into it. Ben was stockier than Edd, & not trained to push to that level, he would have left scars in the soft clay and soft limestone.

  17. Past the gate there are no offshoots. It goes to a T, one end peters out straight and the main cave descends down at an angle. It is a solution tube, basically a tunnel of rock, no side routes. The cave has been extensively explored, only spotthat is not explored is the very end where it pinches off to not passable. Despite what other divers have told, the shovel was no where near the end.

  18. Your theory takes a tight small tunnel and fills it with unstable rock. This would make it impassable and also more dangerous with fractured ceiling rock raining down in the water and killing searchers. If anyone blasted that cave, none of us would ever dive it again. watch some cave diving videos on youtube and you'll understand better. After blasting there would be no way to search, no way to move boulders, and remember it is so deep that we breathe special helium/nitrogen/oxygen mixes to avoid narcosis at that depth… and our time that deep is limited to minutes and we rack up huge decompression stop obligations the more time we spend at depth. its not your fault for not understanding, I'm just trying to help you understand the terrain. but thanks for considering creative options.

  19. Won't fit. as someone else said, its as tight and then goes tighter than crawling under your bed. dragging underwater sonar that is bigger than a human and can't pass as far wouldn't help. this “could be” a good idea in larger caves such as eagles nest where it is so large you cannot see the sides.

  20. What a ghastly hurtful & downright vicious comment to make,for goodness sake,if you have nothing constructive to add to a heartbreaking mystery,then rather keep quiet! Shame on you!

  21. My heart goes out to this family! I watched the documentary and have questions and a comment. The question is: Ben's two decompression tanks were recovered. One of the tanks was full and the other half empty. At the level were Bens shovel was found how much of the tanks would have to be used to decompress safely(it was said, in the documentary that Ben failed to fill the second tank, how do they know that) ? I ask this because maybe Ben was on his way out when something happen. Was the “gate” closed when Ben went through it or left open? If so, when the first diver went back down to look for Ben how was the gate open or closed? Was it normal for employees of the dive shop to leave, in the evening, knowing someone was still in the cave? I point this out because if I owned a dive shop I would not leave until everyone was accounted for. I find it hard to believe that it was two days later before they discovered Ben's truck. My suspicion lies in the employees of the dive shop. One of the divers delayed telling the police that he let Ben through the gate knowing he did not have certification to go past that point. My theory is that Bens body was discovered by one of the employees and the fear of liability and civil actions against the business was avoided by getting rid of Ben's body. It is obvious Ben's body is not in the cave so were was it moved too? Again, my heart goes out to Ben's family. I hope the police asked these same questions to the employees and were TOTALLY satisfied with their answers.

  22. My heart goes out to this family! I have seen this story on ID's Disappeared a couple times. And each time it becomes sadder than the last. The pain this family is going through must be unmeasurable! I know that K-9 dogs were brought out to search for Ben and they picked up his scent at the water's edge, but I am bothered that so much time was spent looking INSIDE the Vortex and not enough time was spent OUTSIDE of it looking at the entire property. If Ben drowned in the Vortex, accidentally, and the employees covered it up, and CARRIED his body out of there, the dogs would lose his scent. I am saddened that they did not investigate OUTSIDE of the Vortex as much as they did INSIDE it. As for the people calling the family liars for telling people their other son died of a stroke and not a drug overdose, that's sad. Perhaps they do so to keep respect for the son. Perhaps they don't want people negatively judging him. I know people who have lied to the public about how a loved one died just so people won't judge the beloved deceased. Have some compassion for this family. No family is perfect. And it is very hard for parents to lose their children! I hope that this family finds the answers they are looking for. As for Ben, if he did pass away by accidentally drowning, there is a sense of peace knowing he passed away doing what he loved. God Bless Ben and his family and friends! ❤️

  23. what i meant to say about the gate- if ben was the last diver in the cave for that day, what position was the gate when the next diver went down there? if you could find the person that went down first the very next day, ask them if the gate was locked or open? if Ben was instructed to lock the gate, when he came back out, was it locked or still open the next morning? if the gate was locked that probably means ben came back out of the deeper end when something happen.

  24. well put Catherine, i still think this mystery lies in the head diver, of the dive shop, and the owner of the dive shop. In the documentary they said the head diver was hesitant about telling them he let Ben through the gate. I wonder if they did a lie detector test on the guy and owner???

  25. First, may I say to the family how sorry I am for their loss. I cannot imagine losing a child and not knowing how or why. My condolences are extended.
    I began diving the Vortex in 2002. It is a lovely dive loaded with brightly colored fish and aquatic life. The Vortex has a rock bottom lining & is the reason the water is nearly crystal clear. Experienced divers may go 110'. The cave is at 310'. Diving to a depth of 310' is accomplished after becoming experienced diving at that dangerous depth.
    The key to the gate protecting divers from the cave is not issued without divers being properly prepared. Why an employee would issue a key to Ben is something I will never understand. IIRC, the dive shop closes at 5pm or at 7pm on weekends. Hence, Ben beginning a dive at 7pm is faulty info. JMO

  26. Why not drill the cave area where they suspect his body might be? It would require permissions and permits..and ruin the cave..but a life is a life..parents need closure.

  27. Why not drill the cave area where they suspect his body might be? It would require permissions and permits..and ruin the cave..but a life is a life..parents need closure.

  28. Where did the $40,000 tax bill from the IRS come from? Was that fund money?
    And as an aside, many people overdose on drugs for a multitude of complex reasons, sometimes even accidentally. To say it was because of one thing someone else did shows a lack of understanding of the complicated nature of people's addiction problems.

  29. im not sure the year but i think it was in the 90's alot of people died in that cave,something like 10-15, not sure if it was over the course of 1 year or several but i certainly remember the authorities wanted to ban diving into the cave all together and seal it up, that's why they made the gate and locked it, although i don't imagine there would have been much investigation or even closure of the park if they did find Ben because not long after some guy did die in there and the body was recovered but they never closed the park for even a week or even made much of a deal about it.

  30. one of the tanks full and the other half empty but they just had air in them and not trimix mix like you would imagine. air can only take you around 30-40 metres safely and the gate is around 90metres. although i suppose it is possible he was going to use them to do decompression stops on his ascent or something.

  31. Ben McDaniel is alive and well. He is living in Albuquerque, NM working in construction.. He was my roommate for a little over a year, I was watching his story on ID one day when he walked and he asked me not say anything about him or his whereabouts.. Then the next day he moved out without any notice..

  32. OK if the guy is alive is he still using his real name? How long ago did he move out? This would be awesome if it were true. Do you have pics? Any proof??

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