Diver cried as he brought body of free diving teen to surface

21 Sep

Updated: 5:27 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015  |  Posted: 2:13 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015

By Jorge Milian – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

As Tim Fernan and his team of divers from Palm Beach Reef Research searched for 15-year-old free diver Skyler Hunt on Saturday afternoon near the Boca Raton Inlet, he couldn’t help but think of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen.

“The whole time we were looking for Skyler, the key thought in my mind was, ‘I don’t want this family to go through what the two families in Jupiter went through,’” Fernan said of the two Tequesta teens who disappeared on July 24 and were not found despite a search that lasted two weeks and extended as far as North Carolina.

After 90 minutes, one of Fernan’s colleagues located Hunt’s body lying on a reef in around 50-55 feet of water. Fernan, in tears, brought Hunt’s body to the surface. The boy was taken to Delray Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 4:45 p.m.

Hunt was “free diving” — which uses no breathing aides such as scuba tanks — with his father and friends when he went missing around 2 p.m.

When Skyler didn’t resurface, the authorities were alerted.

Triston Hunt, Skyler’s father, also put out a plea for help on his Facebook page on a post stamped 2:41 p.m.: “Any divers I need your assistance[.] my son [went] free diving with me off Spanish River Boulevard today 30 minutes ago and I believe he was a shallow water blackout and I cannot find him[.] any divers assistance is needed call me….”

“Shallow water blackout” is a loss of consciousness resulting from low oxygen to the brain during extended underwater breath-holding.

Fernan and his team of research divers were motoring toward Boynton Beach when the boat’s captain, Tony Coulter, was alerted by the Coast Guard about the missing boy. It took three attempts by10 divers before a line from Hunt’s spear gun was found. The spear gun itself was then located and, finally, the boy’s body.

Coulter said he was in radio contact with Triston Hunt when his son’s body was brought to the surface.

“It was sad, just heartbreaking,” said Coulter, who skippers the charter dive boat ‘Diversity.’ “We got Skyler back so hopefully there’s some closure for the family.”

Attempts to reach Triston Hunt, of Hobe Sound, on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Josh Ghanem, of Boca Raton, said his friend Skyler was more comfortable in the water than on land.

“That kid was like a fish,” said Ghanem, 17. “Nothing made him happier than being in the water. It was his life.”

Ghanem said Hunt was “fearless” in the ocean. Ghanem recalls spearfishing in the Bahamas with Hunt about two years ago when they spotted a 14-foot hammerhead shark. Hunt, 13 years old at the time, gave chase.

“He saw it and just wanted to play with it, as crazy as it sounds,” Ghanem said. “He was the most fearless, bravest kid anybody would come across.”

Hunt was also an experienced free diver despite his age, Ghanem said.

“He was an extremely good diver,” Ghanem said. “He was only 15 years old but he could free dive down to 90 feet with no problem. I don’t know too many 15-year-olds that can do that.”

Current statistics regarding accidents are hard to come by, but a review by Divers Alert Network recorded 417 free-diving incidents and 308 deaths around the world from 2006 through 2011. Most of the accidents (90 percent) took place in the ocean and in the U.S. (47 percent).


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