Acclaimed cave diver, technical diver and explorer Brett Hemphill has died while exploring the Phantom Springs cave system in Texas.
Details about the incident are scarce, but Phantom Springs – the deepest natural cave in the United States – is renowned as an extremely challenging system which demands divers entering its depths have high skill and experience levels.
Hemphill, the president of the non-profit organisation Karst Underwater Research, which seeks to explore, study and preserve underwater karst environments, had been a leading light in the world of cave and technical diving for many years. He made pioneering contributions to sidemount configurations, and played a crucial role in exploration, mapping and research in underwater caves for decades.
Award-winning underwater photographer and videographer Becky Kagan Schott filmed several documentaries with Hemphill, and in a statement on Facebook, she expressed her disbelief and shock in hearing of his passing.
‘Brett B Hemphill you’ve helped me since I was 18, you believed in me, you took me to places I never could have imagined in my dreams. You took me places that I described as dreams and nightmares, like entering the cave at Weeki Wachee with you over and over again.
‘Your jokes and positive attitude were infectious. Your thirst for knowledge and pushing caves further was admirable. I loved hearing the excitement in your voice when you talked about caves. Your enthusiasm never failed and it always felt new and exciting. You were a true explorer and a true friend.
‘Knowing you for 23 years, hearing your stories of exploration or of your family will always bring a smile to my face. Working on several documentaries with you in Florida, Bahamas, Yucatan and Phantom were unforgettable times. We won Emmys together, educated the public about safety in caves and what draws people to these places. I will always smile when I think of you but right now I’m heartbroken as are all of your friends.'