It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Peter Timm, a legendary South African underwater explorer who played a part in one of the most extraordinary animal rediscoveries of our time.

Timm, 51, and his diving partner Adele Stegan, 45, died on Wednesday after aborting a dive at 60 metres near a reef known as Aliwal Shoal on South Africa's eastern coast. Just what caused the pair to surface too quickly remains a mystery, but experts suggest that decompression sickness (DCS) is to blame for their deaths.

The diving legend worked closely with Earth Touch on our production of Dinofish, a National Geographic co-production about the rediscovery of the coelacanth – a fish long thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs. He was the first person to see the ancient creature in its natural habitat.

"Peter was hardcore – not just in appearance and stature, but in his resolute passion for the ocean, deep-water exploration and the coelacanth,” Earth Touch producer Ben Hewett said. 

"In the short and memorable time I spent with Peter, it was clear that his first coelacanth sighting left an eternal impression on him," Hewett said. "Peter would talk about them and treat them with the same love and loyalty as he would a family member … I think to Peter they were part of his family. He would risk life and limb to spend time with these magical creatures. Our documentary would not have been possible without his amazing experience, unquestionable expertise and steel determination."

Condolences and tributes from colleagues, fans and friends continue to pour in on social media platforms.

You can read more about Timm and his incredible journey in The boer and the fossil fish – a tribute to Peter Timm.