TAMPA — Nik Petrik, with sponge-like curiosity and passion for the past, thrived in the presence of history.
As a documentary filmmaker, he made several trips to the sunken Titanic. He and a crew traveled deep below the sea's surface in a specialized submersible to study the ship and its artifacts.
On one trip, archeologists discovered a small leather vial among the wreckage. While crew members worked to preserve discoveries, the vial exploded. Out wafted a powerful scent — a pretty perfume a young woman would wear.
"He said it just took your breath away," said his wife, Janice Davis.
"Nik had a curiosity about the world, and documentary really lends to that curiosity,'' she said. "It really lends to that unfolding of history, and that was something he really loved. It was about humans. It was about people."
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Mr. Petrik died at home in Davis Islands on Monday. It was likely a heart attack, his family said. He was 58.
His life of adventure started early. His father was a linguist in the Army who took the family around the world to such places as Germany and Japan. Young Nik had an artistic eye and a taste for science. In college in South Carolina, he studied engineering, but it wasn't the right fit. He moved to the University of South Florida to study mass communications.
He became enthralled by the film industry.
"Nik was an amazingly driven, energetic individual," said Davis. "He was smart and he kept on top of things from the very beginning. In the film industry, you start out on the bottom and you work and work and work."
He operated cameras on films, including Jaws: The Revenge and Chill Factor starring Cuba Gooding Jr. And he worked on many documentaries, including two Amelia Earhart exploration missions.
He belonged to the Explorers Club, a professional society that promotes field research.
At home in Davis Islands, he was a community activist often seen riding his bicycle. His home was filled with volumes of research materials, and he spent hours poring over books at the John F. Germany Public Library.
He was known to scour flea markets and garage sales for finds he thought friends might like.
During one tropical storm, he brought a neighbor named Scott Jorgensen gasoline to run his generator. The two became friends and served on the Davis Islands Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Petrik later worked as a partner in Jorgensen's solar air conditioning company, Solarsa.
"He was always there offering another perspective," Jorgensen said. "When you have a group of technical people, you need somebody that can bring the message home. He was very passionate about it. To me, it's sad that he's not going to be able to share in what's coming up for the future."
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His biggest documentary lasted 23 years — the life of his daughter, Chase.
He filmed and photographed her every milestone. Now she's a college graduate and a researcher like her dad.
When she found out he died, she calmly took control, calling everyone listed in her dad's phone. She figured he would have done the same.
Since his death, the family has gone through his footage and photos, recalling times he popped up with a camera, such as recently, when Davis, Chase and her fiance went to the beach. While Davis snapped photos of the couple, Mr. Petrik stood in the background getting it all on film.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 893-8857.