In the bars and cafes of Dahab this summer, one recurring observation has been made among the diving fraternity, a core constituency in this Egyptian coastal resort. “If it could happen to Steve, it could happen to anyone.”
Last month, Stephen Keenan, aged 39 and from Dublin, drowned while overseeing a dive by the freediving world record holder Alessia Zecchini. While attempting to cross “the arch” of the Red Sea’s notorious Blue Hole using only a single breath, the 25-year-old Italian became disoriented. Keenan rushed to her aid and guided her to the surface. She made it out unharmed but he blacked out and was found floating face down some distance away.
As a safety diver, Keenan was one of the best in the business. His death has cast a shadow over the summer and provided a stark reminder of the dangers involved in negotiating probably the most dangerous diving spot in the world
The Blue Hole is a 120-metre-deep sinkhole, five miles north of Dahab. Its nickname is the “divers’ cemetery”. Yet thousands continue to flock here each year, unperturbed by the increasing number of plaques that hang on the cliff opposite to mark those who never returned.
With no public record, it’s hard to say how many people have lost their lives. Divers in Dahab suggest as many as 200 in recent years. One man who doesn’t venture to guess is 53-year-old Tarek Omar. A technical diver from Dahab, Omar began exploring the Blue Hole in 1992, fascinated by tales of a curse laid upon it when an unwilling party to an arranged marriage drowned herself there. Omar rose to fame in 1997 when he retrieved the bodies of Conor O’Regan and Martin Gara. “They were the first bodies recovered from the Blue Hole.” Since then, he says he has pulled more than 20 bodies out of the water, earning himself the grim moniker “the bone collector”.