Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Age: 47
Years Diving: 24
Favorite Dive Destination: Port Hardy, near Vancouver Island, British Columbia. "The marine life there is so exotic — there are species found nowhere else in the world."
Why I'm a DAN Member: "DAN's research and resources are critical to the technical diving I do. When I explore remote areas using complex equipment, it helps to know the latest information. I call DAN frequently to ask medical questions, and DAN was invaluable when I suffered decompression sickness."

Jill Heinerth has dived deeper in caves than any woman in history. She has explored and photographed Antarctic icebergs and subterranean wonders beneath Mexican jungles and Siberian mountains. Heinerth was a key member of expeditions of the National Geographic Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas A&M University, Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, the U.S. Deep Cave Diving Team and many others. Among her explorations is a two-month project diving a rebreather for up to three hours at a time in an Antarctic ice cave in a 1.8-knot current. Heinerth's dive expeditions are major endeavors that involve an enormous amount of equipment and resources; the project she did in Antarctica with National Geographic had a budget of nearly a million dollars. In January 2012, Heinerth led a team of cave divers, scientists, journalists and Enduro motorbike riders on an expedition in North Africa that will be covered in National Geographic.

"I love to push the limits of exploration," Heinerth said, "and I love sharing my knowledge of diving technology with others." Heinerth does this through her multimedia blog, RebreatherPro.com, which attracts a large international audience. She has also published articles in magazines and newspapers around the world, contributed to the development of training materials for organizations including the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD) and the National Speleological Society–Cave Diving Section (NSS-CDS), and has written three books on cave diving and underwater photography. These talents have established Heinerth as an industry expert in technical diving and closed-circuit rebreathers. Her website www.IntoThePlanet.com showcases her photography and lists her international speaking engagements.

Heinerth is also an award-winning filmmaker. She wrote, produced and appeared in Water's Journey, the PBS documentary series that takes
viewers on travels through some of the world's great water systems. Her expertise in her athleticism, stature and golden hair, Heinerth could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood action hero, but (for now) she prefers to be on the other side of the camera.

Heinerth's accolades include induction into the exclusive New York Explorer's Club and the inaugural class of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, being named a "Living Legend" by Sport Diver and scores of photography and filmmaking awards. Heinerth recently received the Wyland ICON award, which she called "an amazing honor that blew me away."

Despite her extensive diving and travel schedule, Heinerth has found the time to become a talented artist. She is an accomplished painter and may even exhibit her work in the future. She celebrates every moment she has with her husband of six years, Robert, and makes time to stay in shape. "When I'm home in Florida, I swim almost every day. Robert and I love to ride and take frequent 30-mile bike trips together. I don't weight train in the gym because when I'm diving I usually haul more than 250 pounds of gear, and you can bet that will keep your muscles strong."

Another passion of Heinerth's is mentoring other divers. As an instructor, she always advises her students to use a checklist. "Checklists save lives," she exclaims, "and if you will be using a rebreather, complete a five-minute pre-breathe, visualize exactly how the dive will go, and make sure your equipment is in perfect condition before getting wet." Heinerth has dived so many exotic places, but she is still hungry for more adventure. "Someday I'd like to explore the high Arctic and more remote areas of Africa," she says. "There are still so many vistas in the underwater world we haven't seen." There is no doubt Heinerth will be actively searching them out.

© Alert Diver — Spring 2012