American free diver dies during sanctioned competition in the Bahamas

An American free diver died Sunday after trying to complete a 72-meter dive at a sanctioned event in the Bahamas.

Nicholas Mevoli was attempting to set an American record in the constant weight without fins category, which requires divers, who are not using oxygen, to dive straight down and resurface without the aid of fins. At the 68-meter mark, Mevoli stopped and appeared to turn back for the surface, only to dive down farther in an effort to reach his goal.

Mevoli eventually did reach the surface, but that’s when things took a turn for the worse. The New York Times was on the scene and provided this account of the incident:

“Mevoli ripped off his goggles, flashed the O.K. sign and attempted to complete the surface protocol that would make his attempt official by saying, ‘I am O.K.’ But he wasn’t. His words were garbled, his eyes wide and blank. He tipped backward into the ocean and lost consciousness, which, while alarming, is not unheard-of in a sport in which almost all the top athletes have lost consciousness at one time or another, though usually for only a few seconds. Mevoli was not so fortunate.

“Five safety divers, one of them an Australian paramedic and all certified in life support techniques, hefted him onto a nearby platform, where the event physician, Barbara Jeschke of Germany, went to work trying to revive him.

“‘There’s a problem with his lung,’ shouted Marco Cosentino of Italy, one of the safety divers who meet the competitors at various stages to help bring them to the surface if they are in distress. They turned Mevoli onto his side, and blood began pouring from his mouth and pooling on the platform before dissipating into the sea.

“At first, there was a pulse, at times faint, at times strong. Within 15 minutes, there was none. The team cut off his wetsuit and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation in earnest. Attempts to revive Mevoli, which included three shots of adrenaline at the scene, continued unsuccessfully for the next 90 minutes.”

Mevoli had previously set a different record in May, when he became the first American to dive to 100 meters unassisted, but with the use of a monofin. On Friday, Mevoli failed to set an American record in free immersion diving and came to the surface with blood dripping from his mouth after abandoning his 96-meter attempt at 80 meters.

After being treated at the scene after Sunday’s try, Mevoli was brought to Vid Simms Memorial Health Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:44 p.m. local time, one hour and 19 minutes after he began his dive. Doctors at the hospital determined that he had pulmonary edema and had 800 cubic centimeters of fluid pulled from his lungs.

The International Association for the Development of Apnea, the governing body for the event, told the Times that Mevoli was the first athlete to die in an international competition in the sport’s 21-year history. Mevoli was 32.