Family and friends have been overwhelmed by the messages of sympathy after the sudden death of Paignton’s popular Andy Pybus

Tributes have been paid to deep sea diver Andy PybusTributes have been paid to deep sea diver Andy Pybus

Family and friends have been overwhelmed by the messages of sympathy and support after the sudden death of a hugely popular and much-loved deep-sea diver.

Father-of-four and well-known former Paignton rugby player Andy Pybus died while working in the Gulf of Mexico off the American coast on June 20. He was 59.

He has been described as the ‘most popular man in the diving industry and a legend’. Testimony to that was the setting up of a memorial fund which had an original target of £500 and has now topped £9,000. It will pay for a memorial floral display of a diver’s helmet and statue of Andy.

Andy, who had been a diver for 36 years, was renowned for his infectious laugh and jokes.

Andy Pybus with wife FionaAndy Pybus with wife Fiona

John Gratton, best mate and a fellow diver for over 20 years, revealed how Andy was beneath the surface of the water when work colleagues realised something was wrong. He was put into the diving bell and then the living quarters. CPR was used in the battle to save him. But, sadly, it was in vain.

John, who lives in Broadsands said: “One minute he was laughing and joking and then he just went. It is a massive shock for everybody. He was as fit as a fiddle.

“He was probably the most-well-liked person to have worked in the North Sea as a diver.”

Andy and wife Fiona had been married for 35 years. They met while Andy, who was originally from Doncaster, was on a diving course in Plymouth in 1984 and then moved to Torquay where the family home is in Shiphay.

Andy leaves behind wife Fiona, four grown-up- daughters Hannah, Chloe and twins Lauren and Emily, and three grand-daughters and a grandson.

Fiona’s sister, Teresa Leigh, said: “The response we have had has been overwhelming.

“Fiona has been getting eight bunches of flowers a day. The messages that have been coming though have been unbelievable. He was such a well-liked man. He was a wonderful grand-dad, dad and husband.”

Andy had spent a lifetime on the rigs mostly in the North Sea as well as off Africa, Russia and Norway.

John Gratton said: “The whole diving industry is absolutely shocked. He has left a massive hole that can’t be filled. Complete legend and his memory will live on for decades.

“Andy had the most infectious laugh, the most repetitive rubbish jokes. Diving is a very close-knit community and we’re always effected by one of our losses. Andy’s loss is different, many a hardened diver are openly crying.”

Andy made his playing debut for the first team at Paignton in 1988. He played a total of 153 firsts team games over 11 seasons scoring 141 points.

President and former team-mate Nick Bodnar led the Paignton Rugby Football Club tributes when he said: “Andy was a committed family man and put them first followed by his impressive diving career, otherwise he would has played well over 300.

“He was a big presence on the field. He was an integral part in what many would describe as the best all round group of players that Paignton RFC has ever produced.

“I recall that his sober limit was two pints, anymore and he turned into the life and soul of the party with his antics and strange recollection of bad jokes.... along with his stranger dress code. The rugby fraternity will remember him with great fondness and our heartfelt thoughts go out to his family.”

Andy’s family has been waiting for his body to be flown home.

How he died is still a mystery. A post-mortem examination is due to be carried out in Plymouth and a funeral service will be arranged, involving the rugby club, at a date to be confirmed.