Famous Cave Photographer Dies during Photo Shoot for National Geographic
Renowned underwater photographer Wes Skiles died Wednesday while diving off Florida’s east coast, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Thursday afternoon.
Skiles, 52, of High Springs, was pronounced dead after he was found motionless at the bottom of a reef Wednesday afternoon. Skiles had been diving with others and filming underwater about three miles east of the Boynton Beach Inlet, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
Skiles apparently alerted the other divers that he was ascending because he was out of film, Barbera said. The others continued in the water but later decided to ascend. “On their way to the surface, they found him at the bottom of the reef motionless,” Barbera said. The man was rushed to the surface, and CPR was administered.
Barbera said the man was taken to an area hospital and was pronounced dead. The incident occurred at about 3 p.m. Residents of the High Springs area expressed sadness Thursday to learn of the death of a man who had done so much to promote cave diving at area springs.“He really had a large part in putting this area on the map.” said Mark Wray, manager of the Ginnie Springs Resort.Skiles was instrumental in helping to map the caves and develop safety rules for diving at the springs, Wray said. Skiles’ photos on the walls of the resort shop and brochures were a testament to his involvement with the springs.
“He had a vision and a way of seeing things,” Wray said. “What he did was bring his vision to the rest of us.”
Jarrod Jablonski, owner of the Extreme Exposure dive shop in High Springs, said Skiles’ films such as “Water’s Journey” have helped increase awareness of the springs as well as conservation efforts.“A lot of this stuff is really out of sight, out of mind for people,” Jablonski said. “He gave voice to something that is easy to ignore for a lot of people.”
A woman at the Karst Productions, the underwater film and videography company owned by Skiles and headquartered in High Springs, answered the phone early Thursday but said they were not taking media calls at this time.
The Sheriff’s Office reported Skiles had been filming for National Geographic. But the organization reported shooting had finished. “He had been shooting on a National Geographic television production, which had concluded,” said Ellen Stanley, vice president of communications for the National Geographic Society.
A statement from the organization, released Thursday afternoon, said, “National Geographic has learned of the tragic death of Wes Skiles, the accomplished underwater photographer, cinematographer and explorer with whom we’ve worked frequently. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident, which occurred following the conclusion of a scientific research expedition related to marine life off the east coast of Florida. Our thoughts are with Wes’ family.”