The body of diver Brett Hemphill, who went missing during an exploratory dive in Phantom Springs Cave in west Texas on 4 October, as reported on Divernet, has been recovered by members of his own Karst Underwater Research (KUR) dive-team.
Hemphill, 56, and his fellow-divers had set out to explore a lead about 2.2km into the system starting at 135m depth of water. He was last seen on video tying off the guideline on a rock at a US record-breaking depth of 174m, but after that he and the other divers had become separated.
The KUR team had stated that the effort to find and extract Hemphill would involve the assistance of a number of recovery divers, in some cases travelling thousands of miles to the site. Led by KUR director Andy Pitkin, the team found their colleague at a depth of more than 135m on the evening of 8 October.
“When we have got all the information and analysed it, we will issue a statement about the incident that will answer everyone’s questions,” stated Pitkin after the recovery mission. “Until then, please allow us some time to come to terms with his loss, as up until now we have been focused on the recovery.”
Hemphill and KUR divers had set the US deep underwater cave record at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida in 2008 before breaking their own record in 2013 with a 140m descent and 2.5km penetration, also at Phantom Springs. These are the USA’s deepest natural caves, and also challenging for divers because of the complexity of the flooded passages and sometimes strong currents.
Hemphill was president of Florida-based KUR, and he and the team were well-known in the cave-diving community for their success in exploring, mapping and documenting deep underwater systems in Florida, Texas and Missouri, as well as overseas in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Pitkin started cave and technical diving in the UK in 1994 and in 2007 moved to Florida, where he has taken part in numerous KUR underwater cave-exploration projects.
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