'Jacques Cousteau' of U.S. Dies on Dive off West Palm Beach; Englewood Grad Used His Camera to Capture Nature

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A renowned underwater explorer and photographer who began honing his craft while at Jacksonville's Englewood High School and ended up filming breathtaking documentaries on underwater caves and icebergs has died at age 52.

Called an "icon of cave diving and underwater photography" by a friend who knew him since those high school days, Wes Skiles died Wednesday while diving off West Palm Beach.

The website for his Karst Productions company in High Springs called it "a routine filming dive" after another in a long list of assignments for National Geographic magazine, whose forthcoming August issue's cover features his haunting photograph of divers in an underwater cave in the Bahamas.

According to his obituary in The Palm Beach Post, he was working with a film crew around a reef east of the Boynton Inlet Wednesday afternoon when he motioned to another diver that he was out of film. Minutes later he was found on the ocean floor and taken to a hospital after CPR, but he was dead.

Michael Hardy said he well remembers when the diving bug bit his friend. It was during a sophomore year fossil club outing to Ginnie Springs when Skiles spied divers coming out of the crystal clear water.

"He wouldn't leave them alone, asking them questions, and the whole way back in the car, he said, 'That is what I want to do,' " said the Jacksonville fire lieutenant. "I never forgot the look on his face - 'That's what I want to do.' I didn't see him again until 10 years later at a reunion and found out that is what he did."

Jacksonville fire engineer Rick Crawford is an avid cave diver who had known Skiles since 1985. He called his friend "an icon, no doubt" in the sport, who got along with everyone.

"He was very enthusiastic about the sport, worried about conservation and did documentaries on the river, and had a great love for the water," he said. "Every picture you see of him, he is working with his camera with a big smile."

Skiles graduated from Englewood in 1975. According to his biography on nationalgeographic.com, he began exploring underwater caves in Florida with a camera in a career that took him across the world on cave-diving expeditions. …


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