Davin Brannon was a pilot, a spearfisherman, an avid cave and open-water diver and an experienced all-around adventurer, said those close to him .
"I guess you could say he died doing what he loved," his cousin Pam Kirven said. "But I also know he’d never want to leave his family in this way. He loved us all too much."
Brannon was 53 and a Dover resident. He died Saturday while diving in Weeki Wachee’s underwater network of caves known as the Eagle’s Nest, making him the 12th victim of that treacherous system since 1981.
But his friend, Gregg Bonert, who was with Brannon at Eagle’s Nest on Saturday, said this tragedy had nothing to do with a lack of experience or preparation.
"People have a thing about how he was diving in the Eagle’s Nest and that can be very dangerous," Bonert said. "He had all the proper training and equipment. This was a fairly simple technical dive within his capacity. Something just went wrong."
Brannon died underwater, said Bonert, who then swam with his body to the surface.
The cause of death should be known later this week, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said.
The tragedy struck just as they entered what is known as the Ballroom, a cave about 70 feet down, which Bonert said they dive into routinely.
As usual, they had no plans to go any deeper into the Eagle’s Nest, which has passages and caves as deep as 300 feet.
"To go deeper would have required a whole different skill set," Bonert said, adding that Brannon had been diving since the mid 1980s. "He knew his limitations."
Brannon leaves behind his wife, Judy, and an adult son, Matthew Brannon.
Through Brannon’s cousin, Roger Aman, Judy Brannon released a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "He would not want this to give diving a black eye. Diving is very safe and he knew his limitations."
Brannon’s skills saved his life at least once before.
In 2015, he and a friend were diving in the Gulf of Mexico when their 22-foot boat capsized 10 miles west of Bean Point on Anna Maria Island.
Following the incident, the United States Coast Guard crew who saved the pair credited "the boaters’ expertise," noting that they knew their GPS position and never left the capsized vessel.
"He was dialing the Coast Guard as the boat rolled over," Aman said.
The craft capsized because water was not being properly drained from the boat. So after that incident, Aman said, Brannon made sure he always carried a secondary, hand-operated pump.
"He was always the guy double-checking all the equipment," Aman said.
Raised in Dover, Brannon was also the adventurous type as a boy. "He broke both arms swinging on a vine," Aman said. "That’s who he was."
After graduating from Tampa Bay Tech, Brannon would go on to earn an MBA from the University of Tampa and from 1987 until his death, he worked for CAE USA, a flight simulator company.
He also served as a deacon at State Highway Baptist Church in Tampa.
This is the second loss in the week for Brannon’s family.
On Jan. 16, his aunt, Mary Nell Aman, died at the age of 78.
"He was the pallbearer on Friday and then we all went back to the family home and sang hymns together like we used to when we grew up," Kirven said. "It was a beautiful memory. And then Saturday happened."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.