My boyfriend died saving my life in a horror free diving accident, but it won't stop me from competing – I do it for him | The Sun

WHEN Italian free diving champion Alessia Zecchini met safety diver Steve Keegan, their deep connection was instant.

The couple bonded over their love for the world’s most dangerous sport, free diving, which challenges competitors to dive to depths of over 100m without the use of an oxygen tank.

The couple were unbeatable – with Steve, 39, as the world's most renowned safety diver and Alessia, 31, a world-record breaker.

But just years into their blossoming love story, as they tackled one of the deadliest dives in the world, Steve drowned saving Alessia’s life.

Despite her tragic loss – and the dangers of the sport, Steve's end hasn’t stopped Alessia from continuing to compete.

The Italian discovered her passion and talent for free diving at a young age and, by 13, she was already out-competing her adult peers.

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“I knew what I wanted to do… I wanted to reach the world record,” Alessia reveals in new Netflix documentary The Deepest Breath.

After years of training indoors in the pool, holding her breath for over three minutes at a time, she was inspired to take to deep diving in the sea by sportswoman Natalia Molchanova.

The Russian diver held the title of the greatest of all time, with a record of 101m (without diving fins) and a total breath hold time of nine minutes and two seconds – two minutes more than Kate Winslet.

But when she disappeared off the coast of Formentera, Spain, in 2015, due to a freak water current and later presumed dead – Alessia almost quit the sport for good.

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“I was shocked,” Alessia says. “It was really sad because she was really strong and I began to realise that diving could be dangerous.

“I was going deeper and deeper, it’s black and it’s dark and you feel locked inside. You can see things that don’t exist. I was too scared, I wanted to turn around and go back. I no longer felt safe.”

It was only Steve who would be able to inspire Alessia to continue, later agreeing to become her safety diver.


Irishman Steve Keenan fell in love with free diving from the first dive he ever did while holidaying in Egypt and, deciding to stay and train for the sport, later set up his own diving academy.

His close friend and fellow free diver Kristof Coenen reveals: “Steve fell in love with free diving.

“Steve was always trying to dive deeper and he was chasing the Irish record, which was 61m.

"He had a few blackouts in the beginning, but Steve, he liked to bang his head on the wall. Steve never gave up.

"It made him really proud to be the Irish record holder.

“One day, competing for the record in Greece, Steve had a really strong black out. The safety team didn’t know what to do with him and he almost died there.

“He didn’t want anyone else going through that, so he became interested in becoming a safety diver.

"He was the best person for the job because he had the background; the only person who can be a safety for a free diver is a free diver.

“He worked very hard to make a name for himself, and after a while, he got the chance to be on the safety team in Calamata for the World Championships.”


Gaining the trust of some of the sport’s most serious competitors, Steve soon represented the biggest names in diving, guiding them back up to the surface from depths of more than 50m.

Among them, Alexey Molchanov – the son of then world record holder Natalia and the current men’s champion at a mammoth 131m.

It was saving Alexey, 36, who blacked out 40m from the surface when his dive went wrong at the competition in 2013, that took Steve's fame in the diving world to the next level.

Kristof adds: “Steve dived down to meet Alexey, he started to have contractions, he was seconds away from blackout.

"He saw Alexey get into trouble further down around 40m. A split second decision, save Alexey or save himself.

“He saved the world champion. From that moment on, Steve was the star of the competition.”

Steve was introduced to rising star Alessia to help her with her training, and keep her safe, ahead of her world championships.


His job was complex; not only would he train her to stay calm in the water, and reach depths never heard of before, Steve would dive to meet Alessia and ensure she made it back up safely.

“He inspired trust right away,” Alessia says of Steve. “I saw him as the only one who could coach me.

“The thing that struck me was his eyes were so blue, like the ocean. His gaze was enough, before fixing we would look at each other and he would give me strength.”

Together, the pair smashed record after record – including the coveted 'Vertical Blue’ competition in The Bahamas in 2017 – an event reserved for the best of the best.

The Bahamian dive had already claimed one life – American athlete Nick Mevoli – whose lungs were left scarred and ultimately burst by consistent damage from depths.

But Alessia, with the help of Steve, was able to reach a depth of 104m – the deepest point ever reached by a female free-diver, including her sporting legend Natalia.

“Steve's presence made me feel safe in the darkness,” Alessia gushes.

In the wake of their success, Alessia headed to Egypt with Steve to train – and the pair’s working relationship soon turned to romance.

“Alessia and Steve were together all the time,” their close friend Lily Crespy says. “He was coaching her and preparing, sitting down every evening to go through everything.

“They were together every evening. It was an amazing summer – they had a special connection. It was just a really good match. We thought, ‘OK, this is going to be something very special’.”


Feeling invincible at the top of the game, Alessia and Steve planned to tackle the world’s most dangerous dive – The Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt – which is thought to have claimed over 200 lives.

It makes it equally dangerous as scaling Mount Everest.

The submarine sinkhole sees divers to exit a round lagoon and into the open ocean by crossing underneath a gigantic underwater archway, 250m down at its deepest.

To cross it at its peak, divers must descend 52m on a rope before letting go – swimming horizontally for 30m with no safety line – and meeting another rope on the other side to swim back up.

For Alessia, on July 22, 2017, it was Steve who was due to met her at the 52m depth across the archway to help her back up to the surface.

Typically, safety divers descend no more than 30m.

The operation had been carefully timed in a series of practice exercises, with Steve counting the seconds before heading to meet Alessia.

But when he hesitated by 20 seconds more than planned, as his heart was racing too quickly for a safe breath hold, things quickly went wrong.

When Steve descended, Alessia was nowhere to be found at the- having completed her archway crossing ten seconds earlier than planned, and now lost, looking for Steve and the rope.

Missing each other by 30 long seconds, Steve let go of the rope to look for Alessia in the blue darkness.

When he found her, exhausted, afraid and running out of oxygen, he grabbed her hands and pushed her up to the surface – where both she and Steve immediately blacked out unconscious.

While Alessia was safely on her back, thanks to Steve having pushed her upwards by her legs and back, he was face-down in the water.


“The first metres, everything seemed normal until I reached the arch,” Alessia recalls of the tragic accident.

"I remember when I was swimming, it felt a little bit more strenuous.

“There was a problem when I crossed – Steve wasn’t there but neither was the rope.

"I just tried to follow the reef, trying to see where the rope was but I realised I couldn’t find it. I’d made a mistake.

“I suddenly saw Steve in front of me, I remember he took my hands and he swam, bringing me to the surface.

“I don’t remember the first few seconds, I only remember after a while, looking around and not understanding a thing.

“Maybe I could have done more if I had been more conscious. The worst thing is that we couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t save him.

“He rescued me, but I couldn’t rescue him. He was a hero and he showed it until the end.”

“Steve took his last seconds of consciousness probably to put her in a position that she would survive in,” his diving friend Nathan Vinski adds of his tragic end.

In Steve’s memory and with his inspiration, Alessia has continued to dive in competitions worldwide, despite understanding its dangers first hand.

She has set 23 new world records in the pool and in the sea, including breaking her record, achieved with Steve, at Vertical Blue in 2021 – achieving a depth of 115m.

For Alessia, it’s Steve that keeps her pushing on – dedicating each new award she wins to him.

She concludes: “I try to remember his hugs. He’s the person who taught me what it’s really like to hug someone. From his hug, you’d understand how deeply he cared about you.

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“He will always be in my heart. He’s going to be with me forever because I want him to stay with me for the rest of my life.”

The Deepest Breath is available to air on Netflix now

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