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Freediver vanishes while exploring World War II-era shipwreck, an area prone to 'pretty strong currents'

Virgil Price disappears while exploring Halsey wreck site
Posted at 6:14 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 18:34:28-04

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — Several agencies continued to search Monday for a missing diver off the Treasure Coast.

Virgil Price, 39, of West Palm Beach disappeared at about 9 a.m. Sunday while free-diving near a World War II-era shipwreck.

"They had headed out with three people about 10 miles off Jensen Beach to conduct some freediving. They had three divers on the boat," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Estrada said. "Three went down and only two came back up to the surface."

The Coast Guard said Price was freediving at the time of his disappearance, something that experts like Paul Seldes said is distinctively different than scuba diving.

"Freediving is equipment minimalist," Seldes. "Freediving is really just breath-hold diving."

The St. Lucie Sheriff's Office said Sunday in a social media post that they are assisting in the search, indicating that Price was diving near the Halsey, a sunken World War II wreck. Seldes said this site presents challenges for divers and search crews.

"Visibility tends not to be so good in that area. It's pretty prone to some pretty strong currents, so the diving there is difficult to begin with, then add in the hazards of sharp rusty metal from the wreck itself," Seldes said. "It's a popular fishing area so there's a lot of fishing line and entanglement hazards around the wreck."

Diving expert Paul Seldes discusses some of the challenges of diving at the Halsey site off the Treasure Coast.
Diving expert Paul Seldes discusses some of the challenges of diving at the Halsey site off the Treasure Coast.

Still, he said it's well known as one of the few historic wrecks that are accessible to divers. Seldes said that freediving and spear-fishing are common in South Florida.

"I wouldn't call it dangerous. I'd call it a sport with risks but it is also fun," Seldes said. "It is gorgeous. It is breathtaking. It is being part of an environment where few people really ever get to see it."

WPTV spoke to staff at Florida Freedivers who said they are grieving Price's absence. Management confirmed online that Price is the missing diver and that he was he was family to the team and a dear friend to many.