On August 18, 2010, 30-year-old scuba diver Ben McDaniel parked his pickup truck in the parking lot of a dive shop near Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon, Florida. The employees of the shop knew McDaniel well–he was an avid diver and frequently made excursions to the Vortex Spring.
By August 20, employees of the dive shop grew concerned. McDaniel’s truck was still parked out front, and they’d seen no sign of him for over 48 hours. They contacted the authorities, and the investigation was on.
Ben McDaniel went on a “sabbatical” in the summer of 2010 after a series of personal setbacks. He had suffered through a business failure, a divorce, and the death of his younger brother in 2008. He traveled to his parent’s beach house on the Emerald Coast to clear his head and take some time to himself.
The McDaniel family possessed considerable financial resources, so Ben planned to take as much time as he needed to forget the past few rough years. He was an avid diver, and, though he had no official qualifications, he enjoyed exploring underwater landscapes and tapped into his parent’s wealth to finance his hobby.
Investigators believe McDaniel spent his days in the summer of 2010 exploring a dangerous set of interlocking cave systems under Vortex Spring. He was not qualified to do so, and investigators believe he was exploring this area alone to avoid rousing suspicion.
The authorities and the McDaniel family believe that Ben likely drowned while exploring this complicated and narrow cave system. As such, his body may be lost in a hard-to-reach section of the cave. However, some investigators believe that Ben may have been the victim of foul play and that the drowning story is a cover-up for something more sinister.
In 2011, dive shop owner Lowell Kelly died under mysterious circumstances. The McDaniels have entertained the idea that Kelly’s death might be related to Ben’s, though there is no physical evidence linking either case. In fact, there is zero physical evidence in Ben’s disappearance aside from his pickup truck.
Some investigators have even suggested that Ben McDaniel may have faked his death to escape his troubled past. His parents resent and dismiss this theory, as Ben left behind his new girlfriend and pet dog when he disappeared.
In any event, there is no evidence to support any of these theories. As such, the authorities conclude that he must have drowned while swimming alone through a narrow underwater tunnel. The truth may forever remain a mystery.