The Heart-Wrenching Tale of Steven Keenan at Egypt’s Blue Hole

The Heart-Wrenching Tale of Steven Keenan at Egypt’s Blue Hole
Incident LocationDiver Full Names
Egypt, DahabSteven Keenan

In the heart of the ocean, Steven Keenan, a microbiology student turned free diving instructor, embraced the depths as an explorer who ventured where few dared. His classroom spanned the globe, sharing his love for diving with students across Egypt, Spain, and the Philippines. However, destiny had a different plan for him on July 22nd, 2017, during a daring dive in Egypt’s Blue Hole.

Early Influences

Born on December 1st, 1977, in Dublin, Ireland, Steven, also known as Steve, developed a love for the wild early in life. Nature documentaries, swimming with his father at sunrise, and the allure of remote landscapes fueled his fascination. Tragedy struck at 17 when his mother passed away, prompting Steve to embark on an adventure, starting in the rainforests of the Amazon and the jungles of the Congo.

Diving Discovery

Dahab Blue Hole

His journey led him to Egypt’s Dahab, a mecca for diving enthusiasts. It was here that Steve discovered free diving, a form that relied on breathholding rather than scuba gear. His newfound passion for free diving became a significant part of his life, alongside his love for Guinness and the ocean.

Competitive Spirit

Driven to break the Irish record, Steve faced challenges and blackouts in his early competitive free diving days. Undeterred, he set all three Irish National records. A critical blackout experience served as a wake-up call, leading him to develop a keen interest in becoming a safety diver to prevent similar incidents.

Alessia Zecchini and Coaching

Safety Diver Extraordinaire

Steve’s experience as a free diver uniquely qualified him for the role of a safety diver. Unlike scuba divers, free divers require immediate responses in emergencies, making Steve’s firsthand knowledge invaluable. His exceptional skills and ability to identify at-risk divers made him well-known in the diving community.

Alessia Zecchini: A Fierce Competitor

Among the divers Steve closely observed was Alessia Zecchini, a determined and ambitious free diver aiming to shatter world records. Recognizing errors in her technique that led to frequent blackouts, Steve took on the challenge of coaching Alesia, marking the beginning of an extraordinary partnership.

Record-Breaking Success

Under Steve’s guidance, Alesia achieved remarkable success, shattering world records in the Vertical Blue competition. Their partnership culminated in a plan to tackle the world’s most dangerous dive, the Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt.

The Daunting Blue Hole

Infamously dubbed the “diver cemetery“, the Blue Hole posed a significant challenge with its 394 ft depth and a grim history of diver fatalities. Alesia’s ambition extended to becoming the second woman to navigate the Blue Hole, following in the footsteps of Natalia Molchanova.

Love and Intense Training

As the spark between Steve and Alesia grew, they found themselves in each other’s company constantly. Love blossomed, and Steve shared his passion for diving, including the challenging Blue Hole. The summer of 2017 was filled with intense training sessions as Steve coached Alesia for the daunting arch challenge.

Unforeseen Fate

Despite awareness of the risks, Steve reassured his friends, stating, “Leave it with me.” Little did he know the fate that awaited him on July 22nd, 2017, a day filled with anticipation as the team prepared for the crucial dive.

The Dive Preparation

Experienced Leadership

With Steve’s extensive experience, he naturally led the planning for the Blue Hole dive. A meticulous selection of a support team, including eight experienced free divers and instructors, ensured precision in every aspect of the dive.

Thorough Rehearsals

Detailed rehearsals became a vital part of the preparation, focusing on timing the descent and the exact moment to cross the arch. Steve’s leadership and the dedicated team aimed for perfection, recognizing the significance of every detail in this perilous undertaking.

The Dive Execution

Alesia’s Challenging Plan

blue hole egypt

As Alesia prepared for the Blue Hole dive, she chose a challenging approach, opting to descend 170 ft using a rope, swim horizontally for 98 ft through the arch, and then ascend. Unlike Natalia Molchanova, Alesia planned to navigate the arch without using a mono fin, considering it the most difficult approach.

Unfavorable Conditions

The anticipated dive duration was estimated at 2 minutes and 40 to 50 seconds. However, the conditions in Egypt’s Blue Hole were far from ideal, with poor visibility and strong winds creating unpredictable currents. Steve, aware of the challenges, took on the critical role of the first safety diver.

Safety Measures and Steve’s Role

To maximize safety, a buoy equipped with a rope was strategically placed at the arch’s exit. Steve’s task was to be at the buoy, ready to guide Alesia in case she missed visual cues. The safety measures included signaling Lily, the second safety diver, upon Alesia’s successful crossing, initiating the chain of safety divers for different parts of the ascent.

The Unraveling Dive

Divergence from the Plan

The dive didn’t go as planned, starting with Alesia beginning her dive 5 seconds after the official time. However, safety divers relayed okay signs, indicating everything was proceeding as planned. Alesia crossed the arch quicker than expected, prompting a last-minute decision by Steve to delay his own dive by 10 seconds without explanation.

Critical Delays and Disorientation

Steve’s delayed start and unfamiliarity with the area caused Alesia to drift away from the rope. Arriving 20 seconds too late at the bottom, Steve found Alesia swimming away. The duo began their ascent in open water, but Alesia, lacking fins, faced challenges. At 98 ft, she experienced oxygen deprivation, leading to a blackout.

Steve desperately hauled Alesia’s unconscious body towards the surface. The rapid ascent was necessary, but it posed serious risks of decompression sickness. With every upward stroke, Steve knew the danger of the bends increased, but leaving Alesia to drown was not an option.

Frantic Rescue Efforts

At the surface, Alesia, realizing Steve’s lifeless state, flipped him over and initiated rescue efforts. Tourists in the area added confusion, making it challenging for the safety team to realize the severity of the situation. Despite valiant attempts, including CPR and transfer to the hospital, Steve was pronounced dead, having suffered an in-water blackout.

Aftermath and Legacy

Alesia’s Reflection

In the aftermath, Alesia expressed the heartbreaking realization that Steve had sacrificed his last moments to ensure her survival. Despite being rescued by him previously, she couldn’t save him. The diving community paid tribute to Steve’s memory, organizing an underwater vigil to honor the hero who had spent a lifetime in pursuit of meaningful treasures.

Alesia’s Continued Journey

Alessia Zecchini, now 31, continued her free diving career, setting new world records and achieving remarkable depths. The documentary “Deepest Breath” released in 2023 explores the lives of Alessia Zecchini and Steven Keenan, offering an intimate look into their personal relationship, achievements, and the tragic events that unfolded in Dahab, Egypt, in 2017.

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How deep is the Blue Hole cave in Dahab, Egypt?

The Blue Hole reaches a daunting depth of 394 feet.

What was Steven Keenan’s role during the dive?

Steven served as the first safety diver, ensuring Alesia’s safety during the perilous dive.

Did Alessia Zecchini continue her free diving career after the incident?

Yes, Alesia continued, setting new world records and achieving remarkable depths.

Rebecca Penrose
Rebecca, an experienced blogger, delves into the world of diving accidents, sharing insights, stories, and valuable lessons learned. Dive in and explore the depths of underwater safety.
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