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The Life and Death of the Andrea Doria
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Nick Caruso
Photo Courtesy of Nick Caruso
Nick Caruso tries to revive Vince Napoliello, above, on Aug. 4.
A Driver's Mystifying Death
Continued

AT 4:03 p.m., Crowell pointed his video camera at Vince, who moved slowly toward the stern of the Andrea Doria.

He held his arms straight down, perpendicular to his body. They fluttered as if he were warming himself. He kicked lightly, his black fins moving only inches, up and down.

It was the slow-motion swimming style that deep-wreck divers sometimes use to conserve their precious breathing gases.

The two yellow tanks containing Vince's decompression gases hung down on each side of him. It didn't appear that he had used either one. Their regulators remained strapped close to the tanks.

A bubble trail flowed off Vince's gear. He was still breathing.

Murphy was antsy. He wondered if Vince planned to turn around and come back. He glanced at the luminous gauge on his wrist that told him how long he had been underwater.
Nick Caruso
Newsday Photo/Michael E. Ach
Above, he sits with his two children, Christopher, 3, and Joseph, 1.

Eighteen minutes.

Murphy had two minutes to get to his first decompression stop, 100 feet up.

Vince continued swimming down the hull. Murphy couldn't put it all together in his mind.

"Vince knows the wreck," he thought. "He's been here before. I'm on an anchor line. It's not the right one, but I need to get out of here right now."

By the time the sun's rays reach 200 feet, they color the cold water a deep blue-green. On a good day, on the wreck of the Andrea Doria, visibility might extend 50 feet.

Vince swam. The ocean gathered in his form.

As Murphy watched, Vince's image was painted over with successive layers of green.

Then, he was gone.

AT 4:08 P.M. Nick Caruso stepped from the shade of the Sea Inn's cabin, squinted into the afternoon light and saw a diver in the water about 50 feet away.

The diver seemed to be rolled on his hip. Maybe he was adjusting his equipment. Glare blasted off the water.

No, Caruso realized, the diver was motionless and face down.

Caruso shouted at Tom Surowiec to retrieve the diver in trouble. Surowiec dived into the water.

"I need everyone up here now," he yelled.

Divers rushed in to help Caruso lift the man aboard. Santiago Garcia snapped off the man's tight-fitting rubber neck seal. Others unzipped the diver's dry suit. Someone scissored the wrist seals.

Caruso and Surowiec immediately started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Surowiec, a Union City, N.J., police detective who had crewed for years on the Seeker, recognized the diver as Vince Napoliello.

"Hey, Nick, he's got two bottles of 80 percent!" someone shouted.

"Poor ---------- , look what he did," another diver said.

Caruso thought, "This guy died from oxygen toxicity."

He continued working on Vince. Vince's eyes fluttered open only once.

On the Seeker, diver Pete Wohlleben was resting in his bunk below when he heard shouting from the Sea Inn. He rushed up the ladder to the Seeker's wheelhouse. Jenn Samulski, Crowell's companion and business partner, was there.

"Is it one of ours, or one of theirs?" Wohlleben asked.

Back on the Sea Inn, Caruso asked Joanne Surowiec -- Tom's wife and also a seasoned diver -- to examine Vince's gear. She noticed the sloppy labels on the decompression bottles. But, when she tested the gas with a portable analyzer, she found one to contain 36 percent oxygen and one to contain 80 percent.

They were correctly filled, even if the labels were all wrong.

The 80-percent bottle, however, was only about half full. That suggested two possibilities: Vince breathed on the bottle when he was too deep in the water and convulsed from oxygen toxicity. Or he never filled the bottle to its capacity, a common practice.

Joanne Surowiec twisted the isolator valve that connected Vince's two main tanks and discovered that he had dived with it closed. That meant about halfway through his dive, he couldn't suck air from the regulator in his mouth without reaching behind his head and opening the valve. For some reason, he hadn't done that.

ALTHOUGH CROWELL later said he wished no one had tampered with the equipment before it had been examined by investigators, the Sea Inn crew members reacted as many divers would. For years, they all had sat through diving classes, bantering about the right and wrong way of filling tanks and rigging gear. They were always dreaming up artificial emergencies and puzzling how to get out of them.

"The curiosity level is great," Garcia said. "You have to remember, this could be me. You want to know, where was his mistake?"

At 4:46 p.m., as divers continued pumping Vince's chest and blowing air into his mouth, Bill Cleary surfaced after his 65-minute decompression.

Cleary had been agitated and fearful. Something wasn't right. Fourteen minutes earlier, a diver from the Seeker had dropped into the water to do a head count on who was inching up the line. Cleary, in an extremely unusual move, even went back down the anchor line to see if either Vince or Denis was still hanging on it.

"I hung way off the line, in an effort to avoid my own exhaust bubbles," Cleary said. "And I had the sense I was looking into a grave."

He broke the surface and saw that people were doing chest compressions on someone stretched out and shirtless on the stern of the Sea Inn. He tore off his mask and regulator and started to swim over.

"Bill, get in the boat," said a diver, motioning him to the Seeker.

"Where is he?" Cleary shouted.

"Bill, just get in the boat," someone from the Seeker said, and Cleary swam back.

Eleven minutes later, Denis Murphy surfaced near the Sea Inn and swam over to the Seeker, and Cleary told him what had happened. Soon after, Emmett McDowell came up and lumbered aboard. He was a police officer and an emergency medical technician.

Crowell yelled down to McDowell: "Go over there, Emmett, if you want to help."

He grabbed his medical bag and stepped down into the inflatable Zodiac boat. Cleary started to climb in after him.

"Get out of there," Crowell bellowed down to Cleary.

Aboard the Sea Inn, they continued to conduct CPR on Vince even though it appeared to be a hopeless situation. It's required at sea to continue life-saving attempts until the Coast Guard arrives.

By 5:25 p.m., a Coast Guard helicopter was hovering over the Sea Inn. Twenty minutes later, the helicopter had left for Cape Cod with the body of Vince Napoliello.

McDowell came back to the Seeker and approached Cleary.

"He's gone," McDowell said.

The two men embraced.

"Did he ever regain consciousness?" Cleary asked.

"No," McDowell said. "We never got a vital sign from him."

Crowell prepared the Seeker to head back to Montauk.

On the Sea Inn, no one felt like diving. But the decision was made to remain at the wreck of the Andrea Doria. So they stayed.

"We were there for three days," Nick Caruso said. "That's what my people paid for."

SOMEONE BROUGHT SOME Corona beers from the hold, and Bill Cleary took two as the Seeker turned west again for the all-night sail back to Long Island.

He cracked the gold cap from one of the bottles, walked to the side of the boat and poured it into the water coursing past the hull.

"Here, Vince," he said, "this is for you."

Cleary, McDowell and Crowell lit Arturo Fuentes cigars and settled into spots on the steel equipment table. There, only a few hours earlier, they had chattered about the artifacts they had brought up 200 feet from the Doria.

It was a clear night, warm and calm. The darkening sky glistened with what looked like broken bits of porcelain.

Crowell found himself in a rare battle with self-doubt. He wasn't sure he wanted to continue being skipper of the Seeker.

"This ------- " he thought. "Can I stand the emotional strain all this places on me? I don't know. I don't know."

The men smoked quietly in the dark, and they sipped the Coronas, and the Seeker took them through the warm night to Montauk.

‘What, another one?" Lt. Tim Dickerson of the Coast Guard said to himself on Aug. 4, the afternoon Vince Napoliello died.

Dickerson already was immersed in the investigations of the deaths of Craig Sicola on June 24 and Richard Roost on July 8.

He had an idea about what had happened in both cases. The medical examiner in Boston ruled Craig died from drowning and catastrophic lung damage that Dickerson believed occurred when Craig's emergency ascent line snapped and sent him rocketing to the surface.

Dickerson wouldn't be able to fully recreate Richard's last moments. His dive computer had been in the water so long it recorded over second-by-second information about the depth of his dive that could show his path through the wreck.

His gas mix had checked out. His equipment worked. There were no drugs in his system. The evidence suggested that for some reason, Richard passed out and exhausted all of his air. The Suffolk County medical examiner's office marked down Richard's cause of death as "drowning." But Vince's case would continue to mystify for months. Things didn't get any clearer when word leaked out in the fall that a Massachusetts autopsy determined that oxygen toxicity and blocked arteries significantly contributed to his death by drowning.

The pathologist told Dickerson that he listed oxygen toxicity as a contributing cause after reading a diving-gear report he had requested from two Wellesley, Mass., police officers who were experienced Doria divers.

However, in an interview, Sgt. Robert Yeagle said he and Deputy Chief Terrence Cunningham had no way of knowing whether Vince ever breathed from one of the decompression bottles.

"An underwater crime scene is the hardest crime scene to get evidence from," Yeagle said. "No one eye-witnessed him breathing from the wrong regulator." Crowell zeroed in on Vince's heart condition. He theorized that Vince may have lost consciousness due to a deadly buildup of carbon dioxide, which was caused by his clogged arteries. Too much carbon dioxide can also cause mental confusion and may explain why Vince tore Murphy's regulator from his mouth.

It provided him the clue he needed to chalk up Vince's death to a medical accident. It allowed him to counter arguments that big-boy diving was inherently unsafe.

Crowell acknowledged he didn't know for certain how any of the three men had died. Still, that hasn't stopped him from airing his opinions in talks at several major dive shows in the Northeast this year.

Dickerson eventually embraced Crowell's theory about Vince Napoliello. But Vince's family accepted the ambiguities of what had happened that day at the Doria.

"There could be a hundred reasons why Vince died," said Vince's brother, Dr. David Napoliello, a trauma surgeon. "You don't have to make a mistake. We just don't know for sure what happened." Nick Caruso, however, thinks he knows what happened, and he and Dan Crowell have dueled in public on the question.

Caruso was among those who crouched in the aisles on March 27 at the Beneath the Sea diving show in Secaucus, N.J., to get a look at the presentation Crowell had worked up over the winter: "Andrea Doria - Accident Analysis." Crowell, who usually favors blue jeans and a tucked T-shirt, wore a sport coat, button-down shirt and necktie. Caruso asked why Crowell allowed Vince to dive with his horribly labeled tanks.

"Look, if we notice something that's confusing or strange, we'll ask the guy to not go in the water, and we'll analyze out the gas," Crowell said. He added that to clear things up, this year he planned to print labels for people to use on his boat.

They continued to debate the cause of Vince's death, to no resolution, but Crowell bristled at Caruso's implication that people on the Seeker didn't look out for one another.

"I'm not everyone's leader, OK?" he told Caruso. "... It's not my responsibility to babysit all these people." AFTER she heard the news about Vince, Marisa Gengaro called his voice mail at Legg Mason and recorded the chirpy message.

"Hi, I'm either on the phone or I'm not in. Leave a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." Sometimes she fell asleep with the tape recorder next to her ear.

"Hi, I'm either on the phone or I'm not in. Leave a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." She tortured herself with things that didn't make any sense. For the first time, she had failed to bake Vince a batch of chocolate-chip cookies for the trip to the Andrea Doria.

"You didn't bake any cookies," Vince had told her one morning.

"No, I told you I didn't have time," she said.

He flashed the big smile. It was the ever-ready grin he used to punctuate his funny stories at Legg Mason parties, at the dart matches at the Wall Street bars after work.

"Well, if I don't come back, you know that's the reason!" Of course it didn't mean anything and her girlfriends all told her to forget it.

But she couldn't. Vince was gone, and they'd had that heat between their eyes, just like in that Peter Gabriel song they both liked, and everyone could see it. And they were to be married at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, and have pretty Italian-American children, and they would go for rides on the little boat Vince called Champagne. And now what? So she was lost for a while.

She wore Vince's jacket a lot. It was crazy right after New Year's. The fourth of every month is tougher for her, because Vince died on Aug. 4. Then, on Jan. 5, it would have been Vince's 33rd birthday.

The next day, she moved out of her apartment. Vince kept many of his things there, even though he had the place in Brooklyn.

"I had to get out of there," she said.

She couldn't help remembering the night Vince had asked her to marry him - Feb. 13, 1998. She came home to a bouquet of roses, a teddy bear and a note from him. "Wear your best clothes," the note said. A car picked her up and took her into Manhattan, where they dined and he popped the question.

That's the way Vince did things.

Marisa tried to stick to her Saturday routine on April 24, the day she and Vince were to be wed in Roseland, N.J.

She awoke at 7 a.m. to walk her dog. Her father and one of her bosses from the Parkside School called her early that morning to check on her.

"It was a beautiful day for a wedding," she said of that warm spring day. "I can pick 'em!" She went to the gym, cleaned the carriage house in Essex Fells, N.J., where she lives, and shopped for groceries.

"Some days are fine, and some days are up and down," she said. "Some days are nightmares." She drove to Gates of Heaven, the cemetery in nearby East Hannover where Vince is buried.

Vince's family still had not bought a marker, but Marisa knew where the grave was by heart.

She brought a bouquet and placed it there on the grass.

Selecting the flowers was easy. For Vince, she chose red roses.

PEOPLE DIE, BUT the divers keep coming to the Andrea Doria. The Seeker's first charter left Monday night from Montauk. It was full.

Many of the men had gone out a year ago on the same season-opening trip with Craig Sicola.

Gene Peterson, who organized this week's charter, struggled to explain why the divers return each June, and so he leaned on the 76-year-old words of British explorer George Leigh Mallory.

"They asked him, 'Why are you climbing Everest?' and he said, 'Because it is there.'" Peterson and the other divers can't forget what happened to Craig, the troubling vision of his body on the deck of the Seeker. But they can't ignore the challenge of the ocean currents roaring around the outside of the mountainous wreck and the lights-out maze inside.

They can't resist the china.

The seekers need the rush of pulling on a 200-pound scuba rig and descending once again to another world, airless, hushed and dark.

 

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