On Friday, June 20, 1997, at approximately 3 PM, Firefighters Michael Drobitsch and John Ewald of the Chicago Fire Department were participating in a dive training exercise in the lagoon directly in the rear of the firehouse at Meigs Field. Proper diving equipment was being utilized including underwater radio communication devices. Firefighter John DiSilvestro was the on-shore safety lookout man.
According to Ewald, both divers were practicing communicating with one another underwater by swimming side-by-side along the bottom of the lagoon. The current in the water was a little strong so both divers decided to surface in order to gain their bearings. Upon regaining their bearings, both divers continued with their dive. Drobitsch told Ewald that the visibility was getting poor and Ewald thought that this seemed to bother him. Ewald suggested that they should surface when they encountered the next mooring car, and they did so.
Upon surfacing, Ewald noticed that Drobitsch began to drift away from him and seemed to be in trouble as he had removed his face piece. Ewald swam toward Drobitsch and inflated his buoyancy control device (BCD). Drobitsch asked Ewald to peel off his hood, which he did, and Ewald grabbed Drobisch’s tank valve and attempted to tow him to shore. Ewald also tried to release Drobitsch’s weight belt, but was unable to do so. Ewald was rapidly becoming fatigued, and Drobitsch slipped from his grasp and sank to the bottom. Ewald then took off his own facepiece and called for help.
DiSilvestro heard his call for help and ran into the firehouse for assistance. Firefighter Douglas Carbol, Engineer John Strocchia, and DiSilvestro donned their diving equipment and jumped into the water. Carbol swam out to the location where Drobitsch went under and found him right away in about fifteen feet of water. Carbol released Drobitsch’s weight belt and brought him to the surface.
When he was brought to shore, Drobitsch had no pulse and was not breathing. His fellow firefighters started CPR until Ambulance 4 arrived at approximately 4:05 PM. Advance Life Support efforts were continued by the crew of Ambulance 4, but Drobitsch was non-responsive. Ambulance 4 rushed Drobitsch to Northwestern Hospital’s Emergency Room, arriving at approximately 4:32 PM. Efforts by the emergency room staff to revive Drobitsch were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at 4:55 PM.