Without the aid of an air tank and without fins on his feet, Nicholas Mevoli dove more than 220 feet beneath the surface off the Bahamas on Sunday.
After 3 minutes, 38 seconds, the 32-year-old from Brooklyn came to the surface, "flashed the O.K. sign and attempted to complete the ... protocol that would make his attempt official by saying, 'I am OK,' " The New York Times writes. "But he wasn't. His words were garbled, his eyes wide and blank."
Mevoli was dying. Efforts to save him would prove unsuccessful. An autopsy is planned in Nassau, the Bahamas.
He was participating in Vertical Blue, which the Times calls "the Wimbledon of free diving ... an annual event that attracts the sport's top athletes."
Divers go after records in several categories — deepest dive with fins; deepest dive with the assistance of a guide rope; and deepest dive without either fins or a guide rope. All are done without supplemental air.
The International Association for the Development of Free Diving says the world record among men for a dive without fins is 101 meters, or 331.4 feet. The record holder is New Zealand's William Trubridge.
Mevoli was at 68 meters Sunday, the Times says, when it looked like he was going to turn back.
But, "instead of heading to the surface, he decided to dive down again in an attempt to reach his goal and achieve his second American record. A few of his fellow athletes squirmed with discomfort, recognizing that his decision was a dangerous one."
The record among American men for the type of dive Mevoli was doing is 71 meters, according to the U.S. Apnea Association, which "represents freediving in the Untied States."
Moments after apparently reaching 72 meters, Mevoli would head to the surface.
Ren Chapman of Wilmington, N.C., a diver who trained with Mevoli, tells the Times that his friend "died doing what he loved to do, I know that."
An uncle, The Associated Press writes, "says his nephew got hooked on diving as an 8-year-old boy on trips to the Florida Keys."
As for the American record, the international association notes that "Nick attempted to complete the surface protocol, but was unsuccessful. ... Nick appears to have suffered from a depth-related injury to his lungs. ... [His] friends will miss his warm smile and sense of humor, and eagerness to spearfish and dive at any time."
In September, Mevoli wrote a blog post about his "monofin love affair."
Written while he was at this year's Individual World Freediving Championships in Kalamata, Greece, it ends with this:
"On our trip here to Croatia the baggage handlers damaged you, putting a 3cm crack on your blade. I sent you to have surgery by a foreign hand. He botched the blade patch and I decided to amputate the 3.7cm's straight across. They said it was risky. They said I shouldn't drink so much beer before I cut. They said I was crazy but now I sit on the stern of the dive boat on the verge of another diving adventure, the World Championships. My feet inside you, dipping you into the Adriatic's cool waters. I am in love again and you feel great."
He talked about the sport he loved in this video, which was posted in August.
"Is there a spiritual part to freediving?" Mevoli asks. "Absolutely. You spend so much time and thought... you're down there in your own thoughts."
The American record Mevoli held was for a dive with fins. He made it to 100 meters in May.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.