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Report details 1999 diving tragedy

Despite contingencies and help from another diver, Guttenberg man succumbed at a Lake Michigan wreck site he visited many times.

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:00 am

STURGEON BAY, Wis. -- Dirk Kann died doing what he loved.

A diver discovered and retrieved the body of Kann, a Guttenberg man, Aug. 18. He was positively identified by Wisconsin officials two days later.

Kann, 52, disappeared into the depths of Lake Michigan near Sturgeon Bay while on a dive in September 1999.

According to a report from the Door County Sheriff's Department, a diver discovered Kann's body while exploring the debris field from a shipwreck. The diver was able to attach flotation devices to the body, allowing it to surface.

Kann, an experienced diver, had been missing and presumed dead after complications arose during a demanding and dangerous dive about 200 feet below the surface.

Kann and two friends had been exploring the shipwreck site of the Lakeland, which sank in 1924. The group was familiar with the wreckage, having made about 20 trips to the site over five years.

Kann and a friend, Gregory Olson, of Appleton, had an "uneventful" descent, according to the report, safely reaching the bow of the ship. But as they prepared for the ascent, Olson began experiencing problems with a breathing apparatus.

The report said the problem was not uncommon with breathing equipment, and that Kann and Olson had similar experiences in the past. The divers followed a contingency plan but experienced further complications, resulting in Olson using Kann's backup regulator for oxygen.

As the divers continued their ascent, Kann began experiencing physical difficulties and eventually became incapacitated. Completely out of oxygen, Olson was forced to leave Kann behind with an emergency air supply and continue toward the surface, according to the report.

When Olson surfaced, he and a friend that had stayed on the boat searched for Kann and pulled up equipment lines. Attached to one line was the nearly full emergency air tank Kann had been using.

The U.S. Coast Guard searched for Kann but was eventually forced to stop looking. Later attempts to recover the body, including one in 2009, had been unsuccessful.

Authorities used medical and dental records, as well as equipment found on the body, to make the identification.

Kann's widow, Rose, said she did not wish to comment, but she said the community of Guttenberg had been very supportive of her family over the past 13 years.

Olson was unaware of the development when contacted by the TH and said he did not wish to comment.

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