Tragedy at Roaring River State Park

27-year-old diver dies from possible oxygen toxicity

By Sheila Harris Special to the Cassville Democrat

KISS Rebreathers divers gathered at Roaring River Spring Friday morning for what was meant to be a day of preparation for the team’s planned second record-breaking dive into Roaring River Cave on Saturday. 

Instead, the day turned tragic when, shortly after submerging, 27-year-old Eric Hahn, of Blacksburg, Va., suffered from what appeared to be the effects of oxygen toxicity.

Mike Young, KISS Rebreathers CEO and head diver, said the preliminary Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation revealed that Hahn’s personal air tank contained an inappropriate amount of oxygen, which can lead to the type of seizure Hahn is believed to have experienced in the water.

The investigation, which will include the results of a pending autopsy, is ongoing.

Hahn’s body was recovered from a depth of about 200 feet subsurface in Roaring River Spring by his teammates at about 4:20 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Barry County Coroner Gary Swearingen.

Hahn’s fellow divers are devastated by his loss.

“Eric was always smiling and made everyone around him happy,” Young said.

Hahn, a software engineer by trade, was an experienced cave diver of several years who had been present for most of the KISS team’s monthly explorations of Roaring River Cave in 2022.

“Eric always went full-bore to gain more diving experience,” a teammate said. “He always put the time in and did the work — he didn’t just game the system like some cave divers do.”

On Saturday, the KISS Rebreathers dive team retrieved the 18 safety tanks from the spring that had been staged along their route for the day’s planned deep dive. Their underwater habitats (mini-homes where they serve decompression time) were also brought to the surface.

“Our season is over at the park,” Mike Young said. “I’m not sure what next year will hold.”

The KISS team, which began making monthly exploratory dives into the submerged cave with permission from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in May 2021, were originally scheduled for another weekend dive into Roaring River Cave in November, but Hahn’s death has changed that plan.

The KISS Rebreathers will continue diving, even though their time at Roaring River State Park is on hiatus.

“Underwater cave exploration is one of the few final frontiers,” Mike Young said. “We dive because we love to explore.”

The KISS Rebreathers dive team put Roaring River Spring in national record books in November 2021 by achieving a depth of 472 feet subsurface.

Young has said there’s still more depth down there to explore. Whether that will happen now remains to be seen. 

As of October 2022, Roaring River Spring remains “bottomless,” giving credence to a legend handed down through multiple generations — and with Hahn’s name now living on as part of it.