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The Life and Death of the Andrea Doria
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The Diver They Called "Scuba God"
Continued

WHEN RICHARD ROOST was about 12 years old, his parents took him on a 450-mile car trip to Gettysburg.

At the famous Civil War battlefield there, Richard spent hours hunched over the hemlock-shaded gravesites, taking photograph after photograph.

"I don't know how many rolls of film he took," said Richard's 67-year-old mother, Roberta, "but all of them were tombstones."

Richard had a lifelong fascination for gravestones. In his will, which he had drafted in 1981 when he was 29 years old, he instructed his heirs that "an above-ground grave marker of not less than twenty-four (24) inches in height" be erected within six months of his death.

If those conditions were not met, Richard ordered, his estate would revert from his parents to the Save the Whales Foundation.

Richard's parents chuckle at the will now. Their serious son, who seemed always to work hard even when he was a boy, also had a playful sense of humor. They appreciated it.

Richard became the youngest Eagle Scout in the district at age 12. He was also state champion in field archery, slamming bull's-eyes at 50 yards.

"That's the way he did everything," said Roberta.

"Anything he liked," Richard Roost Sr., 66, said, "he would put all the effort into it he could."

He was an indifferent high school student who pumped gas to buy the Camaro he wanted. He worked 11 years in Ann Arbor for a Goodyear garage, located across the street from a scuba shop. Richard became a customer there after he snorkeled in Cancun in the late 1970s. He bought the store in 1985.

From that point forward, diving consumed Richard. He crisscrossed the state's pine-studded "thumb" and explored the numerous shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Huron. Every August, he and friends caravanned north to Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior near the border with Canada.

"During the summer, we couldn't get him here for a dinner or anything on a weekend," said Richard Sr.

Richard's name appeared occasionally in the Detroit-area newspapers when he helped police divers search for people who had disappeared in the water.

"It's fair to say that most divers in southeastern Michigan, and probably greater Michigan, had either trained with Richard, or dived with him," said Egeler, the sheriff's diver.

Richard even met his second wife diving. He and Cyndee explored the Caribbean, prowled the sunken Japanese fleet at Truk Lagoon, and dived tethered to one another under the ice of the Great Lakes. In Bali, he proposed. Their marriage ended in 1996 after four years, but they remained in almost daily contact.

"Richard was my best friend, he was my husband, and he was my diving instructor," she said.

Richard's parents did not talk to their son much about the Andrea Doria trip.

"He usually told us after the fact, so that we wouldn't worry," said Roberta Roost. "And I showed my concern every time I found he had been in a sunken ship."

A DIVER NAMED Steve Berman pulled himself up on the deck of the Seeker at 2:38 p.m. on July 8, and said he was surprised that he had not seen Richard on his way back from the Doria.

Richard and Berman had jumped into the water only 10 minutes apart. That meant that at some point they probably would be able to see each other as they inched up the anchor line on their hour-long ascents back to the Seeker.

Richard had calculated that his entire dive would take 80 minutes. He should have been back on board around 2:20 p.m.

At 2:43, Crowell's girlfriend and business partner, Jenn Samulski, marked down Richard as "overdue."

It was her job to keep the log for all 16 divers. Times in, times out, mixture of breathing gases, bottom time. Over a three-day trip, she jotted hundreds of notations.

The Seeker's crew radioed the nearby Wahoo. No sign of Richard on their anchor line.

Under his relatively placid demeanor, Crowell began to seethe. Another one.

More calls to the Coast Guard.

More investigations.

More chatroom postings branding the Seeker as "morgue boat" and "the evil death boat."

"There's nothing worse that climbing back on that ladder and having someone tell you that somebody croaked," he said. "It's tough enough dealing with all these different people, with all these different egos. Your first reaction is to get -- -- -- off."

Crowell climbed into the wheelhouse and began sketching a few notes on how a search of the Doria for Richard should safely proceed.

Others aboard the Seeker tried to figure out where Richard was. Berman said he had noticed when he was coming off the wreck that the Gimbel's Hole area was clouded with stirred- up silt. Maybe Richard had entered the ship there.

Richard had also mentioned that he wanted to look at the Doria's swimming pools -- a favorite of first-time divers.

Crowell asked for volunteers. Several of the men stepped forward, even though search duty would rob them of their chance to explore the ship the way they had planned. But no one wanted to do that now anyway.

A voice crackled over the radio from the operations center at the Coast Guard station at Woods Hole, Mass., asking for a description of Richard Roost. The Coast Guard then broadcast that information to boats at sea. There was dark reasoning here: Richard might have surfaced and drifted away.

By 6 p.m., a Coast Guard helicopter that had streaked from Cape Cod was thundering overhead. It patrolled a wide grid around the wreck.

Crowell's first two search teams went into the water around 6:30 p.m. Gary Gentile sent up a white slate from below at 7:15 p.m.

"No sign of body in pool or Gimbel's Hole. No sign anywhere -- Gary."

Three hours later, Richard Roost Sr. was typing on his computer in Clinton, Mich., when the telephone rang.

At first he thought it was a prank call, and he got upset. Then he realized it really was the Coast Guard. He hung up the telephone and went into his bedroom and woke up his wife.

"We waited all night for the phone again," he said.

Just before 8 p.m., the Coast Guard helicopter returned to Cape Cod. A pall descended on the Seeker that night, as Crowell and the other senior divers talked out their search plan for the next day.

In Michigan, after midnight, Scott Campbell called Cyndee Roost at her apartment in Ypsilanti, a few miles east of Ann Arbor.

Cyndee couldn't shake the thought that Richard was cold.

"I just imagined him out there," she said, "floating around, alone."

The Coast Guard dispatched the same helicopter at dawn. By 5:15, the chopper was working the search grid. But the agency had to divert the crew two hours later for an emergency rescue. The search for Richard was left to the Seeker.

At 9:37, Dan Crowell and Canadian diver Greg Mossfeldt dropped into the water and searched the kitchen on the ship's Foyer Deck, stairways, dining rooms.

Crowell sent up the slate at 10:31 a.m. "No find."

Others combed the cargo cranes still secured to the bow, and the vast field of debris that spread out next to the ship. Chunks of the Doria's smokestack rose from the bottom like cemetery monuments. The Italian red-and-green paint scheme had long since faded.

Fifteen men searched that morning. They came up with nothing more than the strobe light Richard had clipped to the base of the Seeker's anchor line before swimming into the wreck.

Then, John Moyer and Gary Gentile went in at 12:15 p.m. and headed to the Promenade Deck, where Richard had said it seemed impossible to get lost.

Moyer and Gentile are legends in the subculture of Doria divers. Gentile first dived on the wreck 25 years ago. His heavily illustrated book, "Andrea Doria: Dive to an Era" is always stowed in the wheelhouse of the Seeker.

Moyer had 16 years' experience on the Doria. He had led the expedition in 1985 that discovered the Andrea Doria's auxillary bell. He had also salvaged the biggest art treasures, a series of 700-pound ceramic friezes by Guido Gambone.

Moyer is 46, married with no children, and lives in Vineland, N.J., where his parents owned a farm and his wife's family owns a successful pharmacy. He can afford to spend all summer long poking around the Doria.

Now he and Gentile swam well aft of the Seeker's anchor line and entered the wreck back by the Cabin Class Ballroom.

Topside, Samulski reduced the spectacular weather to a few lines: "Clear, sunny, w, nw, 5-10 knots. Vis unlimited."

Then Gentile saw Richard's body, wedged between two tables, 210 feet underwater.

 

 
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