Meet Victor Vescovo, Who Just Broke the World Record by Diving 35,853 Feet Into the Deepest Part of the Ocean

The world record for the deepest dive in history has just been broken by Dallas businessman and explorer Victor Vescovo, who plunged down 35,853ft into the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep—the deepest known point on Earth.

The depth achieved by Vescovo was 66 feet deeper than the previous record for a solo dive, held by film director James Cameron, who reached 35,787ft in 2012. The previous record for the world's deepest dive (not solo) was 35,813ft, performed in 1960.

Deep Planet, a Discovery Channel documentary series that's been following Vescovo's attempt, will allow viewers to travel with the underwater explorer down to this mysterious, unexplored region.

In an interview with Newsweek, Vescovo said he started thinking about attempting the dive in 2012 after he'd climbed the highest mountain on each of the world's continents. His plan was to dive to the deepest parts of all five of Earth's oceans. He broke the record for the deepest dive during his second expedition into the Mariana Trench.

Explaining what the experience was like, he said: "The bottom was a flat, beige basin of sorts with a very thick layer of silt. There were some small, translucent animals that gently undulate to move about—but there was definitely life at the very bottom of the ocean, it was not dead by any means. It felt absolutely extraordinary to be in a technical creation by man, with 16,000 psi crushing in against the hull and viewports, and yet I almost felt like I was sitting in an aircraft cockpit. A bit cooler because of the temperature, but it was amazing that human ingenuity and engineering could allow us to easily travel to this extremely inhospitable place to continue exploring our world. I felt very excited and privileged to get to see it, but also very much at peace because it really is a quiet, peaceful, place."

Victor Vescovo post dive 2
Victor Vescovo after the second dive into the Mariana Trench. Tamara Stubbs

During the dive, Vescovo encountered a variety of "weird creatures," including a spoon worm at a depth of almost 23,000 feet—deeper than the species had ever before been encountered. Cameras also captured a snailfish, the fish that lives at the deepest depth, at 26,250 ft.

During the dive he encountered several unexpected things, saying that some of the footage they came back with was "amazing."

arrowtooth eel mariana trench
An arrowtooth eetl swims past during the dive into the Mariana Trench. Discovery Channel

"We did have an unexpected adventure at the Challenger Deep when one of our robotic landers got trapped on the bottom because it dug too deeply into the silt on landing," he added. "We had to plan and execute what became the deepest marine salvage mission in history to go down again with the sub and push him free. He was down there over two days in the dark, but we were able to go back."

In terms of the challenges involved in diving to such great depths, Vescovo said that designing a vehicle to withstand such great pressures was one of the most difficult obstacles. "It was a big challenge to design all the systems that could reliably and repeatedly survive that massive physical assault from nature.

Hitting the bottom - Mariana Trench
The bottom of the Mariana Trench Atlantic Productions for Discovery Channel

"The biggest risk was probably developing some kind of leak at extreme pressure," he continued. "When you are down in the ocean, it can be as much as three and a half hours to the surface. A rapid, catastrophic leak or structural failure would obliterate you in a fraction of a second, but a slow leak is something that would have been hard to fix before you could come to the surface—so everything was designed to make that virtually impossible. I feel safer in the sub than I do often driving on a Texas highway at rush hour."

Mariana Trench Dive
View into the Mariana Trench Atlantic Productions for Discovery Channel

He said that the team is fairly sure that the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the deepest point in the ocean, so they are reasonably confident they cannot go deeper. The next expedition will see Vescovo and his team head to the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific.

Earth's oceans are largely unexplored. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that over 80 percent of the oceans are unexplored, unobserved and unmapped. Indeed, it is thought that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do the seafloor. The deepest trenches represent some of the most remote regions on the planet. Understanding them, however, could provide an important understanding about Earth—including the planet's tectonics, climate change, and even how life began.

"Many scientists believe that the oceans can show us new species of life with unique biochemistries that could unlock new materials or medicines," Vescovo said. "Understanding how life exists in these extreme depths can also help us understand how life originated on earth and how it could develop on other planets. Marine geologists can learn how the Earth's crust moves and thus help us understand earthquakes and how tsunamis are generated. Atmospheric scientists can take readings from greater depths to see how the earth reacts to climate change including how the ocean captures carbon and heat, so we can make our climate models more accurate."

He added that another very important part of exploration is entering the unknown. "We don't know what the deep oceans might teach us. True exploration has a fun habit of surprising us. Who would have thought that Columbus' voyages would have eventually led to the discovery of the potato, or bison?"

Speaking about breaking Cameron's record, Vescovo said: "He was actually kind enough to correspond and speak with me before my dives and was extremely supportive of our mission. Many of the people that worked with him on his expedition are now working with me on mine. He was very generous with his time, explaining where he went on his dive, helped me obtain maps of the dive area, and was also the primary motivation for our trip to the Sirena Deep on our last dive. He very much thought we should go visit it for the benefit of science, so we did. I am extremely grateful for his expedition showing us technically what worked well and what needed enhancement, and helping us push deep ocean exploration forward in a very collaborative and supportive manner.

"He and I are the only two people to have ever built a full ocean depth submersible and personally dived it to the bottom of the Challenger Deep—so, yes, I very much feel he is a kindred spirit."

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