LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A tragic shipwreck nearly 20 years ago has made a positive impact on local tourism. Divers and anglers, who visit the Fantastico and Lee county's other two dozen artificial reefs, generate an estimated $60 million each year. Vibrant marine-life, world-class spear-fishing and an interesting story of her sinking beckon divers from near and far to explore the Fantastico.
Recertified to dive six months ago, US Army veteran Kyle Kmetetz of Cape Coral chose the Fantastico as his first plunge into the Gulf. The 28 year old Purple Heart recipient served six tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Ambushed in 2004, Kmetetz sustained a brain injury and gunshot to the arm.
"The doctors originally said I'd never be able to dive again, so this was a big deal for me...One of the injuries I suffered was a ruptured ear drum, and I had surgery several years ago to have it repaired," explains Kmetetz.
John Pound of Minneapolis-St. Paul chose not to sightsee but to catch dinner! "It was snapper zoo down there, that's what it was," says Pound. "I went down there and there were so many mangrove snappers, you couldn't see the bottom."
Pound snagged four mangrove snappers and a large amberjack on his two hunts. "Hopefully tomorrow night they'll be on the grill. It'll be good," he chuckles.
Mike Campbell , Environmental Specialist Senior with Lee County DNR, explains that the wreck's location, nearly 50 miles offshore and 100 feet below the surface, creates a unique environment for fish.
"Your jacks and sailfish have been seen out there. So you have the opportunity to see some larger pelagic fish that you may not be able to see closer to shore," says Campbell.
The history of the 205 foot freighter is just as alluring as the marine-life. The Fantastico sunk March 13th, 1993, in the Storm of the Century. Violent seas overwhelmed the ship, forcing her to sink on her side. Seven of the 10 crew members died, four buried at sea.
Whether you're exploring southwest Florida's maritime past, spearfishing, or sight seeing, the Fantastico offers something for every advanced diver.
Do you have a favorite dive hotspot? Email Katie Walls at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know, or like WINK on Facebook, and comment on this story. Katie and News-Press partner Kevin Lollar will be diving your top five southwest Florida wrecks and reefs over the next year, taking you below the surface through the art of television and print!