How Did Safety Diver Stephen Keenan Die?

With Netflix’s ‘The Deepest Breath’ delving deep into the always dangerous, sometimes fatal extreme sport of free diving, we get a true insight into its every intricacy, reality, and technicality. After all, it incorporates not just archival audio-video footage but also exclusive interviews to really shine a light upon the tragic water-driven love story of Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan. We say tragic because he sadly passed away while saving her life before their romance could even take off — so now, if you simply wish to learn more about this, we’ve got the details for you.

Who Was Stephen Keenan?

It was reportedly back when Stephen (or Steve) was a mere child growing up near the West Coast of Ireland that he first developed an interest in nature and traveling, only for it never to waver. The truth is a David Attenborough documentary was the spark to his passions, following which he began snorkeling alongside his father and collecting National Geographic paper magazines. Then came his endless questions of what, why, how, when, where, etc., depending upon the areas/elements surrounding him, per his father, making it clear he wanted to be a world explorer.

However, everything changed for Stephen during his teenage years as his father left home and his mother got diagnosed with cancer, resulting in him developing an entirely fresh perspective. He obviously knew he didn’t want to stay, settle down, or lead a conventional existence, yet he still gladly stuck around after graduation for his mother since they’d always been extremely close. Her death, thus devastatingly, finally pushed him to spread his wings, especially as his philosophy became to “live for today, for you never know what comes down the line,” according to the original.

And so Stephen rushed to his first dream spot of Congo, Africa, followed by Ethiopia, Guinea, Nigeria, Sudan, and Sierra Leone, among others, in search of a destiny he didn’t fully understand. That’s when he decided to return home because he still couldn’t find his calling, just to make a final trip to Dahab, Egypt, owing to it being a mecca for divers and his early love for the free sport. Though little did the mid-30-year-old realize he’d end up settling there upon noticing a need for safety divers with proper background knowledge as he himself had struggled a bit in the water.

In other words, Stephen gradually evolved from a free diver to a diving instructor/trainer to a safety specialist to an entrepreneur — he actually established Dahab Freedivers right on the coast. Yet 2013 is when he’d inadvertently made a name for himself in the community by saving diving icon Natalia Molchanov’s son Alexey during an event while risking a blackout and hence his own life. He was a selfless hero in every sense of the term, which is precisely why he was ultimately appointed Chief of Security for the deep, dark, perilous 2017 Vertical Blue competition in The Bahamas.

That’s when Stephen came across an unwaveringly determined yet hot-headed Italian athlete Alessia Zecchini, only to end up spending nearly every day with her in the form of a safety instructor. It thus comes as no surprise he was right there when she broke Natalia Molchanov’s long-standing world record of 101 meters, just to break it once again a few days later to reach 104 meters. “He inspired trust right away,” Alessia said of him in the documentary. “I saw him as the only one who could coach me. The thing that struck me was his eyes were so blue, like the ocean. His gaze was enough, before fixing we would look at each other and he would give me strength.”

One of their close friends then added, “Alessia and Steve were together all the time. He was coaching her and preparing, sitting down every evening to go through everything. They were together every evening. It was an amazing summer — they had a special connection. It was just a really good match. We thought, ‘OK, this is going to be something very special’.” And it was, leading the duo to soon plan her arrival in Egypt to not only train alongside the certified instructor but also attempt the hazardous Red Sea Blue Hole dive, which is believed to have claimed at least 100 lives over the years.

Diving Mishap Claims Life of Stephen Keenan

As per the documentary, it was on July 22, 2017, when Alessia attempted this complex dive following several trials with Stephen, who had planned to meet her at a safety line at the ascend mark. But alas, everything that could go wrong did — while she completed her swim 10 seconds prior, he plunged to meet her 20 seconds later than decided upon as his heart was beating too fast for a safe breath hold. The couple hence missed one another by a total of 30 seconds, by which point the former had already paddled away toward endless blue darkness in search of the rope, driving her beau to quickly rush after her.

When Stephen finally reached Alessia, he was apparently running low on oxygen, exhausted, and near a complete blackout, yet he still grabbed both her hands to push her straight to the surface. That’s where they both lost consciousness, but the difference was she was face-up while he was not, and no one else was around to immediately help out – mere seconds could’ve made a difference. It turns out Stephen’s last act was reportedly to ensure his girlfriend floated right side up; he knew all he needed in life were Alessia and the sea, so he gave it up for them without hesitation.

Read More: Enzo Zecchini: Where is Alessia Zecchini’s Father Now?