Video: James Cameron first solo dive to reach ocean’s deepest point

  1. Closed captioning of: James Cameron first solo dive to reach ocean’s deepest point

    >>> the film director james cameron of titanic fame is famous for his epic movies . he's also a real-life adventurer, and today, he completed a big one. the first solo trip to the deepest part of the ocean, almost seven miles down below the surface of the pacific. his story from mike taibbi .

    >> for the 57-year-old director, his ride for the trip was a lime green custom designed one man subhe called his vertical torpedo. able to withstand an incredible eight tons of pressure per square inch . it took him to the marianna trench. the very bottom of the pacific ocean floor, some 200 miles west of guam. for cameron and the national geographic society , it was a journey into one of the planet's enduring mysteries.

    >> jacques cousteau used to say, if we knew what was there, we wouldn't have to go.

    >> he nor his cameras saw any signs of life .

    >> my feeling was one of complete isolation from all life.

    >> starting with the abyss about a dive team's rescue of a disabled nuclear sub and through titanic and then avatar, he's indulged in an unlimited curiosity. he was thrilled to be the first to make the trip solely. in 1960 , a two-man team in a more primitive navvy sub had done so. and since he had already made over 70 descents in subs, he didn't need to parrot a line from one of his famous movies --

By
updated 3/26/2012 5:18:04 PM ET 2012-03-26T21:18:04

The last frontier on Earth is out of this world, desolate, foreboding and moonlike, James Cameron said after diving to the deepest part of the ocean.

And he loved it.

"My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity," Cameron said Monday, shortly after returning from the strange cold dark place seven miles (10.9 kilometers) below the western Pacific Ocean that only two other men have been to. "I felt like I literally, in the space of one day, had gone to another planet and come back. It's been a very surreal day."

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Cameron, whose imagination of alien worlds yielded the blockbuster movie "Avatar," said there was one thing he promised to himself: He wanted to drink in how unusual it is.

He didn't do that when he first dove to the watery grave of the Titanic, and Apollo astronauts have said they never had time to savor where they were.

"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 during a Monday conference call 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.

He also realized how alone he was, with that much water above him.

"It's really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realizing how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place," Cameron said.

No deep-sea monsters
Cameron said he had hoped to see a 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 small primitive sea animals on the ocean floor, as he did when he dove more than 5 miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were voracious shrimplike critters that weren't bigger than an inch. In future missions, Cameron plans to bring "bait" — like chicken — to set out.

Mark Thiessen / National Geographic
The Deepsea Challenger submersible begins its first 2.5-mile (4-km) test dive off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The sub is the centerpiece of Deepsea Challenge, a joint scientific project by explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

Cameron said the mission 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.

There had been a race to the bottom among rich and famous adventurers. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin venture fame has been building his own one-man sub to explore the depths of the ocean. Branson told The Associated Press on Monday that Cameron's dive was "a fantastic achievement."

Branson said he hoped to explore a different deep place first now, instead of the Mariana Trench. He planned later this year to dive to the deepest part of the Atlantic, the Puerto Rican trench, which is only five miles from his home. That area is just shy of six miles deep and has not been explored yet.

Branson said he hopes to take his one-man sub and join Cameron in a tandem dive of solo subs: "Together, we'll make a formidable team."

Three hours at the bottom
Cameron 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 his time there was shorter than the six hours he had hoped for, and he didn't reach the trench walls, because he was running low on power. He said he would return, as would the sub's Australian co-designer, Ron Allum.

"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 (320 kilometers) 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.

Image:
Mark Thiessen  /  National Geographic via AFP - Getty Images
Filmmaker James Cameron gives two thumbs-up as he emerges from the Deepsea Challenger submersible on Monday.

Couldn't catch critters
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. His cramped vehicle — his head hit one end and his feet the other — was especially toasty because of the heat given off by electronics. It felt "like a sauna" with temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), he said.

But as he plunged into the deep, the temperature outside the sub dropped to around 36 degrees (2 degrees Celsius), 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."

More about the deep sea:

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: 10 secrets of the deep ocean

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    The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth's surface, yet their depths remain largely unknown. It's a frontier that scientists are racing to explore using tools such as the deep-ocean submersible Alvin, shown here. Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about 10 deep-ocean secrets that have come to light.

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    The orange and red starfish relatives called brittlestars have managed to defy the odds and colonize the flanks of a giant, underwater peak on the Macquarie Ridge, an 870-mile-long underwater mountain range that stretches south from New Zealand to just short of the Antarctic Circle. The peak, known as a seamount, juts up into a swirling circumpolar current that flows by at 2.5 miles per hour, delivering ample food for the brittlestars to grab while sweeping away fish and other would-be predators. Another brittlestar species has settled on the seamount's flat summit, a habitat normally settled by corals and sponges.

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