He was considered one of the best, if not the best, safety divers in the world, and Stephen Keenan died after coming to the rescue of a fellow diver. The 39-year-old Dublin native died over the weekend at the dangerous Dahab Blue Hole in Egypt, reports Deeper Blue. Keenan was an expert at free diving—meaning no breathing equipment—and Outside magazine notes that he he'd gained a reputation as the "most accomplished and beloved" safety diver in the sport. That is, he provided essential backup to other divers in case they got into trouble. On Saturday, he was trailing Italian free diver Alessia Zecchini as she attempted to navigate a notorious 85-foot-long tunnel at a depth of 184 feet at the Dahab site.
It appears that after Zecchini became disoriented at about 165 feet, Keenan dove down to assist and began guiding her back to the surface. She made it back, but Keenan himself apparently blacked out in the last 30 feet of the ascent and couldn't be revived upon being rescued. Because of the risks involved (almost always during ascent), the sport has a regimented safety protocol, per Outside. One only diver has died in competition, in 2013, and Keenan's death is believed to be the first of any safety diver. "He was a hero to the end," wrote the professional dive team Vertical Blue on Facebook, one of the many tributes popping up to Keenan. (Read more diver stories.)