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The Life and Death of the Andrea Doria
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Graphic: Deconstructing the Dive -- Richard Roost, July 8.

Richard Roost
Veteran diver Richard Roost emerges from Lake Superior in 1997.
The Diver They Called "Scuba God"
The Search for Richard Roost

By Joe Haberstroh
Staff Writer

 

LEE SOMERS kept wired to scuba's electronic grapevine, where divers used the Internet to trade technical tips, vacation ideas and third-rate gossip. Sometimes his computer even flickered with real news.

"Andrea Doria gets another one," said one in a flurry of postings from the rec.scuba chatroom in late June of last year.

"Does anyone have any details ... ?" asked another.

A diver dead at the Doria. Somers, a University of Michigan oceanographer, immediately called his friend Richard Roost Jr.
The Seeker
On July 8, 1998, the Seeker waited at the surface during the search for Roost, who never returned from his fourth dive to the depths of the Andrea Doria. He was found a day later.

They'd known each other for years. Richard's was the only dive shop in Ann Arbor, and Somers was the sport's elder statesman in Michigan. They had recently given a joint seminar to the Ford Seahorses, the scuba club at the auto plant in nearby Dearborn.

Somers passed on what he had learned about the death.

Craig Sicola, 32, of Surf City, N.J., had traveled to the famous shipwreck aboard the Seeker, the same boat Richard planned to take to the Doria in a week.

Richard hung up the telephone and detailed Sicola's death to Scott Campbell, the husky 31-year-old ex-Marine who helped him manage Divers Inc.

Richard didn't seem shaken by the news. But then, Richard could be hard to read.
The Search Begins
In a video image, fellow Seeker divers suit up to begin the search for their colleague; by then Roost had been missing for an hour.

He liked his privacy, and he rarely invited even his closest friends to his home. He was quiet, and he could tinker wordlessly for hours with scuba equipment. He was serious, and he worked trade shows in a suit and tie while other dive-shop operators wore T-shirts and jeans. Not that he couldn't loosen up: His friends had pictures of him in Fiji modeling goofy hats he had made out of palm fronds.

There wasn't much to say about the death of Craig Sicola. Richard was determined to finally see the Doria and bring back first-class china as proof. He was ready and had even packed a special mask, black with a lime-green strap.

Bad weather the year before had forced the cancellation of a trip he had planned to the wreck. Seeker captain Dan Crowell had sent him deck plans of the ship, and Richard had spent the winter studying them at his home near the university's mammoth football stadium.

He shared his excitement with friends. After leading a training session with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department, he chatted beside the pool with Deputy David Egeler.

"When I dive the Doria," Richard said, "my life will be complete."

Wasn't it true that everyone called him Scuba God? Wasn't he a natural underwater? Couldn't he get more air out of a tank than just about anybody?

Sometimes, divers just died. Even the good ones.

"We didn't talk about it much," Campbell said. "And nothing like that ever happened to us."

BY THE TIME Richard arrived in Montauk on June 30, the summer night had unfurled a velvety sky glittering with stars. Yet every time Crowell read the weather dispatches burping from the fax machine on the Seeker, the conditions remained stormy at the far-off Doria coordinates. So he scrubbed the charter.

Richard didn't miss a beat. He signed up for a trip scheduled to leave Montauk a week later and drove all the way back to Michigan.

In between, the weather held long enough for Vince Napoliello, a 32- year-old financial adviser from Brooklyn, to go on a Seeker trip to the Doria.

"If you look at the typical Seeker dive," said Bill Cleary, who organized the trip, "you have guys like John Moyer, who owns the salvage rights to the Andrea Doria and guys like John Chatterton, who owns the salvage rights to the Carolina. You have Gary Gentile, the author of more than 20 books on diving.

"No matter how many people die on the Seeker, it's still the best dive boat in the Northeast."

On July 5, Vince and Cleary descended to the wreck. But it took 15 minutes to get inside to the china they were after, and they had agreed they only wanted to spend 17 minutes at the bottom.

In two minutes, they managed to dislodge 20 pieces of china. Later, they high-fived each other on the deck of the Seeker.

Until then, Vince had been noncommittal on whether he would make a second trip to the Doria last summer. But he'd had such a good time, he signed on with Cleary's Aug. 4 charter.

That'd be it for Vince. With his wedding scheduled for the spring, he had decided his next trip to the Doria would be his last.

ON JULY 6, Richard drove east in the night on Montauk Highway. In his teeth he clenched a cigar he had just bought in East Hampton. A little aromatic treat for the last leg of the 14-hour drive from Michigan to eastern Long Island.

He and Scott Campbell had a running gag. Whoever was on vacation would call the other guy at work and say what a great time he was having. It was especially delicious if the weather was horrible back in Michigan.

"I just picked up a cigar, and I'm headed out to Montauk," he told Campbell from the car phone.

Campbell could hear the lightness in Richard's voice. He had been telling people close to him that he wanted to play more in his life. He wanted to spend more time away from his bustling dive shops.

But first, the Doria.

Campbell wrapped up the conversation with his usual mock-innocent question about one of Richard's antique diving helmets.

Campbell: "If you don't come back, can I have your Mark 5 helmet?"

Richard: "Sure!"

EIGHT HOURS LATER, at dawn on July 7, tendrils of fog coiled around the Seeker's radio antennas as Crowell slowed the boat near the wreck site.

At that early hour, the sun remained a white disc in the mist. The water had a roll, a one- or two-foot swell. The men's bare arms shone with sticky sea air.

Two dive boats anchored on the Doria for the next few days. Sometimes as many as five parked there at the same time. The other boat that day was the Wahoo, a vessel based at Captree State Park.

Crowell and the Wahoo's owner, Steve Bielenda, were rivals, but their relationship was in the mutual-respect phase at the moment. If the Wahoo was once the lead dive boat on the Doria, the Seeker was now.

On the Seeker, Richard had carried aboard his usual gadgets. He had a laptop computer he used to construct dive plans based on the gases he would breathe and the depth he would attempt. Many of the divers brought along such computers, but Richard also toted a color printer.

To others on the boat, Richard seemed quiet, perhaps edgy. He was certainly fatigued. He topped off his long drive from Ann Arbor with nine hours on the 65-foot Seeker. And, for all his experience in the water, Richard wasn't much fond of boats. He was feeling seasick.

Crowell had kept an eye on Richard and placed him into the category of divers with whom he felt comfortable. In the divers' vernacular, Richard wasn't scary.

"When we say a guy's scary, we mean he'll exhibit poor judgment, or is just generally sloppy," Crowell said. "Richard's definitely not that guy. He's been diving for 25 years. He did some homework."

Crowell gathered the divers that morning for a safety briefing. Despite his gut feeling that Richard was competent, Crowell strongly encouraged him and the other new divers not to go inside the wreck until they first had oriented themselves on the outside of the hull.

No one voiced an objection.

Crowell recommended they make their first dive an exploratory swim along the ship's Promenade Deck.

Forty-two years ago, the main feature of the Ponte Passeggiata was its wrap-around walkway lined with a wall of windows usually left open to the ocean breeze.

Now, most of the 300-foot-stretch of glass was gone, and millions of barnacles cemented themselves to the window frames.

The Seeker's anchor line was also shackled to the Promenade Deck, about halfway from bow to stern.

At 10:27 a.m., Richard splashed into the ocean and teamed with two other first-timers at the Doria. These were Joseph Gaddy, a computer systems administrator from Dayton, N.J.; and Robert Ryan, a police captain in Crowell's hometown of Brick, N.J.

Gaddy entered the water at 10:29; Ryan at 10:30.

In four minutes the men were on the ship. They swam along the Promenade Deck.

At one point, Gaddy saw a set of double doors below him. He lowered himself into the opening, then pushed himself back out. It didn't count as going inside. Gaddy could see Richard the whole time.

"Richard didn't try to penetrate," Gaddy said. "He didn't follow me when I dropped into that doorway. He was conservative."

Ryan agreed. He noted Richard's smooth movements underwater, his streamlined scuba equipment and his calm way of doing seemingly everything.

After the first dive, Richard tinkered with his equipment, re-filled his scuba tanks and listened a lot.

He stood near the stern of the boat staring in the direction of Crowell and diver Gary Gentile as they used toothbrushes to clean china they had recovered.

Richard was 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, and his broad chest and heavy shoulders strained at a dark turtle neck shirt. His eyes narrowed in apparent concentration as he gazed toward the other divers.

The next day, Richard stepped off the Seeker at 7:59 a.m. On this dive, he would not be content to kick along the outside of the Andrea Doria.

He located the china closet discovered two weeks earlier by Gentile on the charter where Craig Sicola died. Richard grabbed one cup and three saucers. Each piece bore the maroon-and-gold band that identified it as first-class china.

Then, he made his way outside the ship and swam up to the Promenade Deck. He went into the ship again there.

Richard turned around frequently to check his position and tried to remember landmarks. Richard had taught people this method of "progressive penetration" for years.

He took in the comforting amount of bluish light that glowed through the deck's windows and passageways. There were a lot of ways to get out.

Later, minutes after climbing the Seeker's aluminum ladder that plunged beneath its stern, Richard showed Dan Crowell his Andrea Doria china.

"I thought that was going to be the dive from hell," Richard said.

He then explained to Crowell where he had gone, and how relaxed he felt with so many windows and doorways in the Promenade Deck. "It's not like you can get lost in there," he said.

"Uh, yeah," said Crowell.

Crowell was surprised. He hadn't expected Richard to go so deeply into the Doria so soon. He was a bit jumpy after the recent death of Craig Sicola. Nevertheless, as he listened to Richard recount his dive, Crowell felt reassured.

"After Craig," Crowell said, "I just didn't imagine it could happen again."

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