Amy Ryan drowned while cave diving in the springs off of S. Riviera Point in Citrus County. Photo courtesy Steven Orosz.
Chassahowitzka, Florida -- A University of South Florida student who was two weeks away from graduating, died Sunday while cave diving with friends, according to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.
The sheriff's office says the investigation is still ongoing, but we are told that Amy Ryan, 22, was with her boyfriend Steven Orosz of Zephyrhills and another couple when they went cave diving in the springs off of S. Riviera Point.
Photo Gallery: Pictures of Amy Ryan
A sheriff's office spokeswoman tells 10 News the group was not wearing scuba gear, only goggles at the time.
So far, sheriff's investigators have been able to determine that Ryan was following her friends through the underwater cave, but did not surface. It's possible she may have taken a wrong turn. Her friends' repeated attempts to find her were unsuccessful.
Tommy Fletcher, a Citrus County firefighter who is also a certified cave diver, eventually located the young woman lodged in the underwater cave about fourteen minutes after she went in.
Fletcher says it's the same location where a man drowned while making the same swim through the underwater tunnel a few years ago. He knew exactly where to look.
"We began to survey the offshoots going up underneath the ground and were able to find her 25 feet back up into those offshoots," Fletcher told 10 News.
He says the underwater tunnel, which stretches about 15 feet across, connects two springs.
The first is about 8 feet around and 10 feet deep and the other about 3 feet across and 10-12 feet deep. It may not be very deep, but the offshoots that lead to dead ends can be deceiving and deadly.
While Fletcher and a co-worker felt there was still hope they could get to her alive, Ryan was pronounced dead after she was transported to Oak Hill Hospital in Hernando County.
"Anytime you go into an overhead environment cave system where you have rock or ledges between you and the surface, it requires specialty training," Fletcher explained.
Orosz tells 10 News his girlfriend was a strong-willed woman and the smartest woman he knows. He says she was just accepted into medical school and told us, "She had a perfect smile." He also wrote, "She was a perfect, smart, beautiful person. Shouldn't have happened this way."
Ryan's roommates tell 10 News she was an adventurous young woman who loved to travel.
While she had never gone cave diving before, they weren't surprised she gave it a try.
Kelli Vaughn, one of Ryan's roommates says her friend was on the lazy river that day and came across the cave.
"I guess they saw others going through the cave and just thought it would be an experience," said Vaughn, "She was kind of hesitant at first, but her being her adventurous self, she wasn't going to let anybody talk her down."
Vaughn says Ryan watched as the rest of her friends swam through the tunnel and finally worked up the courage to go.
"Steven went first, that's what I'm hearing from him. He went in first and she followed because she wanted to follow and he kept checking on her and she was fine and he finally made it up and notice that she wasn't there," explained Vaughn.
Despite repeated attempts to find his girlfriend, she was nowhere to be found.
Vaughn says Orosz is dealing with an immense amount of guilt, "He was so devastated. He would do anything for her and he tried so hard to go get her. He's just heartbroken. Sometimes he feels it's his fault, but I keep telling him it's not his fault, you did everything you could."
Ryan, from Palm Bay, was a biology major at USF and was about to graduate in two weeks with honors. She was recently accepted into the Lake Erie College of Ostepathic Medicine.
Kelli Vaughn, Ryan's roommate at USF, wrote this statement earlier Monday:
"Amy Ryan was an amazingly beautiful girl and very intelligent. Her four years she was motivated to do well and she continued her goal to go to Medical School. She maintained a high G.P.A, was part of USF's honor college, and was just accepted into LECOM for graduate school in Bradenton, FL. Everyone knew her as the girl who always smiled. On top of maintaining a perfect school record, Amy was very athletic. She loved to play soccer and played on intramural sports team at USF. My roommate Amy was someone I could trust with my life and confide in always. Her time on earth was cut short, but it was a life her parents and she herself should be extremely proud of."
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