James Cameron back on surface after deepest ocean dive


James Cameron: "It's a heck of a ride, you're just screaming down and screaming back up"

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Hollywood director James Cameron has returned to the surface after plunging nearly 11km (seven miles) down to the deepest place in the ocean, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific.

He made the solo descent in a submarine called Deepsea Challenger, taking over two hours to reach the bottom.

He spent more than four hours exploring the ocean floor, before a speedy ascent back to the surface.

His craft was kitted out with cameras so he could film the deep in 3D.

"It was absolutely the most remote, isolated place on the planet," Mr Cameron told BBC News.

"I really feel like in one day I've been to another planet and come back."

This is only the second manned expedition to the ocean's deepest depths - the first took place in 1960 when US Navy Lt Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor in a bathyscaphe called the Trieste.

Lt Walsh, who is now in his 80s, joined Mr Cameron and his team of engineers out at sea for the dive.

"It did bring back a lot of memories, just being out there and remembering what we did there," he told BBC News. "It was really grand."

James Cameron after returning to the surface Director James Cameron resurfaced after spending four hours on the ocean floor

Mr Cameron has spent the past few years working in secret with his team of engineers to design and build the craft, which weighs 11 tonnes and is more than 7m (23ft) long.

He describes it as a "vertical torpedo" that slices through the water allowing him a speedy descent.

The extraordinary attention to detail prevented him from suffering from too much nervousness.

"I can't say that I wasn't apprehensive in the last few days and even the weeks leading up to this, but there's another part of my mind that really understands the engineering and knows why we did everything the way we did," he said.

"Any apprehension I had I left at the hatch. When I went into the sub, I was all pilot at that point."

What lurks in the deep?

Angler fish

The tiny compartment that the film-maker sits in is made from thick steel, which is able to resist the 1,000 atmospheres of pressure he experienced at full ocean depth.

The rest of the vertical column is made from a material called syntactic foam - a solid made mostly of hollow "microballoons" - giving it enough buoyancy to float back up.

The sub has so many lights and cameras that it is like an underwater TV studio - with Mr Cameron able to direct and film the action from within. He intends to release a documentary.

It also has robotic arms, allowing him to collect samples of rocks and soils, and a team of researchers are working alongside the director to identify any new species. He says that science is key to his mission.

But the first task was to get to the inky depths - which despite untold hours of training, still surprised Mr Cameron.

"My reference frame was going to the Titanic 10 or 12 years ago, and thinking that was the deepest place I could ever imagine," he recalled.

"On this dive I blazed past Titanic depth at 12,000 ft and was only a third of the way down, and the numbers keep going up and up and up on the depth gauge.

"You just kind of look at them with a sense of disbelief, and you wonder if the bottom is ever going to be there."

At the bottom, Mr Cameron encountered incredibly fine silt, which he had to be careful not to disturb. He said he spotted a few small, as-yet unidentified life forms but found the depths to be a "sterile, almost desert-like place".

Before the dive, James Cameron told the BBC's Rebecca Morelle why he was risking it all

While manned exploration had until now seen a 52-year hiatus, scientists have used two robotic unmanned vehicles to explore the Mariana Trench: Japan's Kaiko made a dive there in 1995 and the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's vessel Nereus explored the deep in 2008.

Other teams, such as Scotland's Oceanlab, have also been dropping simple landers loaded with bait and cameras into the deepest ocean.

While places like the Mariana Trench were once thought to be of little interest, there has been a recent resurgence of scientific interest in the deep.

Scientists are finding life that can resist the colossal pressures, from deep-sea fish to shrimp-like scavengers called amphipods, some of which can reach 30cm (1ft) long.

They are also trying to understand the role that deep seas trenches play in earthquakes - these cracks in the sea floor are formed at the boundary of two tectonic plates and some believe the push and pull taking place deep underwater could be the cause of major earthquakes, such as the 2011 quake that resulted in such devastation in Japan.

But some scientists question whether manned exploration provides the best platform for scientific research.

Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab, said: "I think what James Cameron has done is a really good achievement in terms of human endeavour and technology.

"But my feeling is that manned submersibles like this are limited in scientific capabilities when compared to other systems, mostly due to the fact there is someone in it. Remote or autonomous systems can collect a far greater volume of useful scientific data for far less money."

Engineer David Wotherspoon explains how Deepsea Challenger works

Mr Cameron says he does not want this dive to the deep to be a one-off, and wants to use it as a platform for ocean exploration.

His craft may also soon be joined by other manned submersibles vying to reach the ocean's deepest depths.

One of these crafts, the DeepFlight Challenger, belongs to former real estate investor Chris Welsh, and is backed by Virgin's Richard Branson. It is about to begin its water trials.

Its design is based on a plane, and Mr Welsh says he will be "flying" down to the deepest ocean.

Google's Eric Schmidt has helped to finance another sub being built by a US marine technology company called Doer Marine. They want this sub to carry two to three people, and are placing a heavy emphasis on science.

And Triton submarines, a Florida-based submersible company, intends to build a sub with a giant glass sphere at its centrepiece to take tourists down to the deepest ocean for $250,000 a ticket.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I cant wait to see the results. An amazing engineering feat all around leading science into the complete unknown.

    Congratulations to the entire team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Perhaps this visit to the deep won't add much scientific knowledge but the documentary that will be made could get more people interested in what is going on down there; and thus increase the funding for more scientific projects. Surely that is a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Couldn't agree more with all the posters praising Mr Cameron's achievements. I guess those of you wishing to moan about must be jealous that he's done more for the common good of mankind in one afternoon than most of you will do in your lives?
    The exploits of modern day explorers will inspire the next generation too. I'm glad this brave fellow has made it back to the surface safe and sound.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Hi, Archimedes, then I say we could do with a few more selfish and ego-centric people like this! If every multi-millionaire in the world undertook a project of this kind the world would be a much better place. Let's agree he domonstrates egoism for the sake of argument: but he also demonstrates bravery, altruism and valuable curiosity: are these so valueless as to be outweighed by his ego?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    "Charidy" doesnt fund wider scientific space exploration. Its a national & international effort. As far as 'space tourism' is concerned, thats a different matter and in the same guise as Camerons adventure - namely aimed at very few people who can pay for a joy ride. Suits some, no probs. I just believe in sincere scientific exploration, over the longer term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    When a Rich boy has a dream and has the money to spend on it Great! New Jobs ,New Investment, New Learning ,New frontiers.

    Answer to Dunkeld ,vin

    Well done to a individual living a dream and creating work for others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I wonder if any of those strange people "conspiracy theorists" think he did not actually do it..... ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    These type philantropic adventures stoke the imagination, especially of the young, and for that reason alone have to be commended. We can't rely on public funding anymore, that's being used to make the rich richer and play empire war games; at least Cameron is giving something back and he's not ripping me off (unlike Branson and his extortionate Credit Card charges) to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Well done to James Cameron on going where only 1 other has been before, lets hope that this will kick start fresh undersea exploration.

    @Peter_Sym, sadly people will always have a go a successful people, saying they should do this or that with money they earnt legally

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Cameron goes to Earths deepest place? Just for a minute I thought it was about David visiting the Conservative fund raising departtment

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    This is a great achievement and surprising that it took 50 years to go back there. There is an urgent need for more people like him ( Science-inclined, rich ) to fund such enterprise as most governments are shying away from an serious commitments to pure sciences. Most intelligent people are being siphoned-off to pointless endeavors like financial markets and social media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I dont 'hate' Cameron, I just believe he is selfish and ego-centric. It should be a shared venture, with a long term goal of exploration Short term snap shots aren't going to stay in the public's mind for long enough. After all, if you want to explore at those depth for any sincere purpose, you are going to need public funds and he is misappropriating his.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    A brilliant achievement. And to all the naysayers out there,giving a few million to millions of people would not make any real difference. Instead, he spent it employing thousands of people in design & manufacture. The skills people & firms gained plus the qudos of being connected with this project will pay dividends for many years. Thats how REAL economic growth is generated, not by charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    This brings home to us that what we see of the earth is just a tiny fraction. It also reveals what an uneven and fragile surface we live on. To think from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the top of Everest is over 65,000 feet.

    Now James Cameron: when you climb Everest you will be the only person ever to have seen the bottom of the world and the top.

    Well done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    What a great achievement for Cameron, the engineering team and all involved. Well done. An even greater achievement though, is that this article been written without one mention of Cameron's deep sea adventure The Abyss !

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Hi, Confuciousfred - I know a couple of people who do such standby work; and they would never say the answer is "don't go for it". They would always say "prepare properly and professionally"; which Cameron patently did. Good to spare a thought for them, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    If James Cameron wants to spend his own money having fun then why not? There's some real fascists on this board who seem very keen on giving other peoples money to 'the needy' (but I suspect would scream like hell if their holiday funds were given to Africa).

    Being mildly claustrophobic the thought of being 30,000 feet under water creeps me out. Cameron is pretty gutsy

  • Comment number 161.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    "King of the Ocean!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I am always full of praise for such ventures, until I think about rescuers who also live on the edge who must put their lives at risk when things go wrong.


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