Edward E. Suarez Jr.'s scuba diving buddies called him "The Dive Monster" because his gusto for underwater exploration seemed insatiable.
"When there was water around, he'd be in the water," said Harvey Storck, a diving partner from Potomac. "Even after a day of diving when we'd all be exhausted, he'd be ready to go again."
Mr. Suarez, 48, of Columbia, died pursuing his passion Sunday in an accident during a cave dive in Bakerton, W.Va., near Harpers Ferry.
Dr. James Frost, West Virginia's deputy chief medical examiner, said yesterday that Mr. Suarez apparently developed the bends, an acute condition in which nitrogen bubbles form in the vascular system. It is caused by a rapid ascent from deep water.
Dr. Frost said Mr. Suarez's death apparently was an accident. However, he said he will not determine an official cause of death until West Virginia officials complete an examination of Mr. Suarez's diving equipment.
Two divers who were with Mr. Suarez Sunday and who spent hours talking about diving and planning trips with him, said yesterday they still are in shock.
"I still expect to get a phone call from Ed," said Mr. Storck, 44, who helped recover Mr. Suarez's body at a depth of about 165 feet the day after the accident. "I don't think it's settled in."
Family members remembered Mr. Suarez as an adventurer, but also as a man who held master's degrees in clinical psychology and information systems technology and as a generous soul who would stop his vehicle to remove a turtle from the highway and take children from his church group fishing or give them scuba diving lessons.
"Personality-wise, he was a mile a minute," said Carol Suarez, 43, Mr. Suarez's sister-in-law who lives in Peoria, Ariz. "There was so much to do and see in the world, he couldn't see why people would sit back and not do anything."
Mr. Suarez, who lived in Owen Brown in Columbia, was a systems analyst at the Social Security Administration. He was certified as a scuba diver in 1967 while serving in the Air Force in Taiwan.
He had logged more than 1,000 dives, including 43 on the wreck of the luxury ocean liner Andrea Doria off New York and 12 on the ironclad USS Monitor off North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Mr. Suarez went diving nearly every weekend, family members said. He went ice diving in quarries in Pennsylvania and explored caves in northern Florida and West Virginia. Artifacts from his explorations decorate the Suarezes' home, said his wife, Elizabeth Suarez, 46.
He had completed more than 40 dives at the Bakerton cave, say diving friends. Mr. Suarez seemed determined to find a way to enter the Bakerton cave at one side of the mountain and come out on the other, Mr. Storck said.
On Sunday, Mr. Suarez dived to a depth of 303 feet, said fellow diver John Stewart of Ellicott City. Mr. Suarez appeared to suffer a loss of air and a problem with a propulsion device, which shot him past a diving partner toward the cave ceiling, Mr. Stewart said.
A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Mr. Suarez grew up primarily in Jacksonville, Fla. He served in the Air Force for four years. He earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and history from the University of Maryland and master's degrees from Towson State University and George Washington University. He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.
Mr. Suarez is survived by his wife; his father and stepmother, Edward E. Suarez Sr. and Betty S. Suarez of Jacksonville; and a brother, Richard B. Suarez of Peoria, Ariz.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia.
Contributions may be sent to American Red Cross Pheresis Program, the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region, 4700 Mount Hope Drive, Baltimore 21215.