An American freediver died Sunday afternoon shortly after emerging from a 72-meter dive in the Bahamas.

Nicholas Mevoli of Brooklyn, New York, dived unassisted to a depth of more than 200 feet in a freediving competition off the coast of the Bahamas' Long Island.

When Mevoli, 32, returned to the surface, he had complications with his breathing and passed out before being pronounced dead.

Vertical Blue, the nine-day International Free Diving Competition, attracts 56 free divers from 21 countries who compete for a $20,000 prize, given to the competitor who can dive the deepest without fins or scuba gear.

The New York man was attempting to break the record for the deepest 'Constant No Fins' free dive, according to the event organiser.

He descended 72 meters on his own in a time of three minutes and 37 seconds before returning to the surface. Upon reaching the surface, Mevoli ripped off his goggles and flashed the OK sign.

However, his words were jumbled and eyes blank as five safety divers rushed to assist him when he fell unconscious.

A television prop man, Mevoli was a relative newcomer to freediving, but achieved a record of being the first American to dive to 100 meters unassisted in May.

Mevoli's lack of experience almost caused him his life last year, according to a blog post he wrote entitled "How I Got to 91 meters". After diving to 88 meters, he said he "felt the effects of nitrogen narcosis at depth and at the same time realised that it was a long way up."

He panicked, racing to the surface and at 28 meters had to be rescued as he "blacked out and experienced a major lung squeeze."

"Nobody could do what he did under the water," Paul Mevoli's uncle said.

"He was very talented. Even the people in the freediving world couldn't believe his skill," he said.

Vertical Blue, the event organisers, released a statement that read: "Competition freediving has an enviable safety record but the sport can never be risk-free, something understood by all freedivers."

The competition took place at Dean's Blue Hole, which is considered to be the world's deepest seawater sinkhole at over 650 feet.