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Old 10-16-2014, 12:23 PM
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RickI RickI is offline
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I just learned the a good friend, W. A. "Sonny" Cockrell recently passed away. We shared a number of adventures back in the day. Looking for Columbus' Santa Maria off Cap Haitian, Haiti to numerous dives in the early man burial site in Warm Mineral Springs to exploring the wreck of the Gil Blas off Hillsboro Mile, visiting Plate Fleet sites off the east coast, discussing early man sites and shipwreck archaeology throughout Florida and the need for preservation and a good deal more. He had strong passion and convictions which came into conflict with some out there. When he was the State Underwater Archaeologist from 1972 to 1983, there was a major feud going on with some of the ship wreck salvors. He described multiple death threats he received including getting injected with air bubbles to simulate an air embolism. It was near open warfare for a while there or so it seemed. I recall Sonny used to routinely travel with gold coins on the way to the Division of Archives in Tallahassee. He also carried three guns usually to aid in self defense and that of the artifacts. He was a very intelligent, well read man with divergent interests. I recall he started in land based archaeology and ended up in underwater archaeology somewhat by accident.


Sonny helps with core drilling on the barrier reef off Cap Haitien, Haiti looking for Columbus' Santa Maria in 1977.


I remember the first time I met him when I was a freshman at USF in 1975. He gave a talk on cutting edge diving and UW archaeology techniques being employed at Warm Mineral Springs. Diver comlinks for communication with various experts on the surface during the dig, special monochrome video lights for better penetration of poor visibility in the spring and a good deal more. In the late 1970's we traveled to Warm Mineral Springs several times to shoot cine and still imagery of the underwater operation. I can recall one tour Sonny took me on the various significant parts of the spring, including all the sources down to 230 ft. in a rock overhead environment. The nitrogen narcosis became pretty intense at depth. I took a number of images in the excellent visibility that day with strobe illumination. Due to the sulfur content of the water and diurnal photochemical reactions visibility was often poor and light pretty much vanished to the blackness of night at around 125 ft.. It was a marvelous tour, I will find more of the photos and will post them here in time.



One of the water sources for the spring in 230 ft..


Many years later I recall him describing solo dives working digs at 150 ft. on air into unstable silt of the talus cone at the center of Warm Mineral Springs. These dives were done in the need to make new finds in the spring without adequate budget for a support team in those later days.


Sonny has a seat on top of the talus cone at around 150 ft..

We last met a few years ago when Sonny drove down to perform a GPR survey of some unmarked grave sites in graveyard in Ft. Lauderdale. It was good to meet for dinner and catchup on things.

He was a driven, fascinating person and the world is a poorer place for his passing. Rest in peace Sonny.




Memorial article continued at: http://www.maritimearchaeology.com/sonnycockrell
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Last edited by RickI; 04-28-2015 at 09:46 PM.
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