James Cameron has become the first person to dive solo to the deepest point on Earth, piloting a 12-ton submersible nearly seven miles below the surface of the Pacific – and announcing it with a tweet from the sea bed.
“Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/you,” the Canadian film director wrote after claiming one of the greatest feats of human exploration.
“Bye baby, see you in the sunshine,” he had told his wife two hours earlier, before being bolted inside a pressurised compartment so cramped that he could barely move his arms and legs, ready to embark on his daredevil mission to Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench.
It was only the second time the 36,070ft recess in the Earth’s crust, 62 miles south-east of Guam, has been visited – and the first time it has been done solo. The depth was thought until now to be 36,070ft – but when he reached the bottom, Mr Cameron’s depth-guage measured it at 36,756ft
Landing at Challenger Deep is to ocean exploration what landing on the Moon was to space exploration. “When explorers go to hostile realms – space or sea – we live or die by our machines,” Mr Cameron, 57, wrote in a final tweet before descending.
The bottom of the Mariana Trench is deeper than Everest is tall. The pressure is eight tons per square inch – so great that human bones would dissolve because calcium is unstable at such depths, and powerful enough to shrink the 24ft sub, Deepsea Challenger, by 2.5ins.
“Release, release, release,” were Mr Cameron’s final words to his team – the order for the crane holding Deepsea Challenger off the mother-ship, the Mermaid Sapphire, before the sub plunged towards the sea bed at up to 700ft per minute.
He began the dive before dawn on Monday local time. He was due to spend six hours exploring the sea bed, scooping biological and geological samples, before ascending.
Among those waiting for him aboard the mother-ship, which will pick him up when he resurfaces today, is retired US navy captain Don Walsh, 80, one of the first to reach Challenger Deep in 1960. Also on the Mermaid Sapphire is Mr Cameron’s wife Suzy Amis, 50, with whom he has three children.
Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft and a friend of the Camerons, also followed the descent on the surface, as did specialists who monitored the sub’s depth, speed and performance, and Mr Cameron’s vital signs.
For Mr Cameron, director of films including Titanic, The Abyss, Avatar and Aliens of the Deep, it was the fulfillment of a seven-year endeavour in which he invested millions of dollars but also lost two close friends.
His documentary producing partner Andrew Wight, 52, and cinematographer Mike DeGruy, 60, were killed in a helicopter crash in Australia last month.