- Director becomes first human to visit bottom of trench since January 1960
- Cuts short dive after hydraulic failure
- Cameron descended 35,756 feet (6.77 miles/10.89km) to reach ‘Challenger Deep’ in the Mariana Trench
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Branson and Jessica Alba tweet support
- First of several competing missions to deepest point on Earth
- Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is high
- Returned to the surface in faster-than-expected 70 minutes
- Cameron filmed the journey for a feature-length documentary
PUBLISHED: 16:10 EST, 25 March 2012 | UPDATED: 20:07 EST, 26 March 2012
James Cameron has become the first solo diver to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep – the deepest point on Earth.
But the Avatar director revealed he cut the mission three hours short after hydraulic fluid started leaking into his sub. The 57-year-old described it as ‘a heck of a ride.’
The ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ director planned to spend seven hours under water but decided to head back up after spotting the leak.
‘I saw a lot of hydraulic oil come up in front of the port. The port was coated with it. I couldn’t pick anything up so I began to feel like it was a moment of diminishing returns to go on,’ he explained.
‘I lost a lot of thrusters. I lost the whole starboard side. That’s when I decided to come up. I couldn’t go any further – I was just spinning in a circle,’ he added.
Scroll down to watch James Cameron surfacing from the challenge
‘There had to be a moment where I just stopped, and took it in, and said, “This is where I am. I’m at the bottom of the ocean, the deepest place on Earth. What does that mean?”’ Cameron told reporters after spending three hours at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, nearly seven miles down.
‘I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating,’ Cameron said.
SIR RICHARD BRANSON TO DIVE TO ATLANTIC’S DEEPEST POINT
Sir Richard Branson is determined to press ahead with his own undersea venture following the success of James Cameron’s journey to the deepest ocean point, it was revealed today.
Today, a spokeswoman for Sir Richard said the Virgin Oceanic challenge would now begin with a dive to the Puerto Rico Trench – the deepest point of the Atlantic Ocean.
As already announced, Sir Richard will pilot the submersible – slightly different in design to the Cameron craft – in the Puerto Rico Trench venture which will see the Virgin boss descend about five miles.
The Virgin programme will then take in dives by human pilots to the bottom of the Arctic, Southern and Indian oceans.
Sir Richard told the Press Association today: ‘I hope to do the Puerto Rico Trench dive in about three to four months if all goes well.’
He went on: ‘Our submersible is a little different from Jim’s (Cameron’s). It’s smaller and will be able to explore the bottom of the ocean.
‘It will take about five hours to complete the descent and then there will be about three hours of exploring time and then it will take another five hours to ascend.’
Sir Richard said he was practising on a smaller version of the sub.
He went on: ‘I think this is the most exciting thing I have done. No-one has been down to the bottom of this trench before. I have been talking with Jim about working together. We might be able to do the Mariana Trench as part of our programme as well.’
He also realised how alone he was, with that much water above him.
‘It’s really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realising how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place,’ Cameron said.
Cameron said he had hoped to see some strange deep sea monster like a creature that would excite the storyteller in him and seem like out of his movies, but he didn’t.
He didn’t see tracks of animals on the sea floor as he did when he dove more than five miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were voracious shrimp-like critters that weren’t bigger than an inch.
But that was okay, he said, it was all about exploration, science and discovery. He is the only person to dive there solo, using a sub he helped design. He is the first person to reach that depth – 35,576 feet – since it was initially explored in 1960.
He spent more than three hours at the bottom, longer than the 20 minutes Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard spent in the only other visit 52 years ago. But it was less than the six hours he had hoped. He said he would return.
‘I see this as the beginning,’ Cameron said. ‘It’s not a one-time deal and then moving on. This is the beginning of opening up this new frontier.’
‘To me, the story is in the people in their quest and curiosity and their attempt to understand,’ Cameron said.
He spent time filming the Mariana Trench, which is about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam. The trip down to the deepest point took two hours and 36 minutes, starting Sunday afternoon U.S. East Coast time.
His return aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger was a ‘faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent,’ according to National Geographic, which sponsored the expedition. Cameron is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
The only thing that went wrong was the hydraulics on the system to collect rocks and critters to bring them back to land. Just as he was about to collect his first sample, a leak in the hydraulic fluid sprayed into the water and he couldn’t bring anything back.
When Cameron climbed into his sub, it was warm because it was near the equator and his cramped vehicle – his head hit one end and his feet the other – was toasty because of the heat given off by electronics. It felt ‘like a sauna’ with temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
But as he plunged into the deep, the temperature outside the sub dropped to around 36 degrees, he said.
The pressure on the sub was immense – comparable to three SUVs resting on a toe. The super-strong sub shrank three inches under that pressure, Cameron said.
‘It’s a very weird environment,’ Cameron said. ‘I can’t say it’s very comfortable. And you can’t stretch out.’
Cameron gave two thumbs up when he triumphantly resurfaced.
His first words to the surface upon reaching the bottom were ‘all systems OK’, National Geographic said on its website.
As he hit the bottom, he tweeted: ‘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.’
RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE!’ were the last words Cameron uttered before beginning the dive, according to a Twitter post from the expedition.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared in Cameron’s Terminator films, showed his support for the director via Twitter. ‘Congrats to my great friend on the deepest solo dive ever. Always a pioneer’.
Richard Branson and Jessica Alba were just a couple of the other celebrities who got behind Cameron’s journey.
The scale of the trench is hard to grasp – it is 120 times larger than the Grand Canyon and more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
While it didn’t need it, the submarine Cameron helped design has the capability to support life for a 56-hour dive.
The first and only time anyone dove to these depths was in 1960.
Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh took nearly five hours to reach the bottom and stayed just 20 minutes.
They didn’t have much to report on what they saw there, however, because their submarine kicked up so much sand from the ocean floor they couldn’t see much.
Cameron said earlier this month that, after a 5.1 mile-deep practice run near Papua New Guinea, the pressure ‘is in the back of your mind.’
The submarine would implode in an instant if it leaked, he said.
But while he was a little apprehensive beforehand, he wasn’t scared or nervous while underwater.
‘When you are actually on the dive you have to trust the engineering was done right,’ he said.
The latest dive site, which is at the deepest point in the Mariana Trench, is named Challenger Deep after the British naval vessel HMS Challenger that used sound to first measure its depth.
The film director has been an oceanography enthusiast since childhood and has made 72 deep-sea submersible dives.
Thirty-three of those dives have been to the wreckage of the Titanic, the subject of his 1997 hit film.