Pressure Dive

After two months of testing DEEPSEA CHALLENGER on shallower dives, Cameron was poised above the deepest place on Earth. No one had imagined diving in seas this rough. A key safety system had failed. But it was now, or never.

05:15, MARCH 26, 2012 11° 22' N, 142° 35' E
(WSW OF GUAM, WESTERN PACIFIC)
Predawn in a pitch-black sea. My sub DEEPSEA CHALLENGER heaves and lurches as huge Pacific swells roll above me. We’ve all been up since midnight, starting our predive checks after a couple of restless hours of sleep, and the whole team is running on adrenaline. These are the roughest conditions I’ve dived in so far on the expedition. Through my external cameras I can see the two divers just outside my tiny cockpit getting whipped around like tetherballs as they struggle to rig the sub for descent.

The pilot’s chamber is a 43-inch-diameter steel ball, and I’m packed into it like a walnut in its shell, my knees pushed up in a hunched sitting position, my head pressed down by the curve of the hull. I’ll be locked in this position for the next eight hours. My bare feet rest on the 400-pound steel hatch, locked shut from the outside. I’m literally bolted in. People always ask me if I get claustrophobic in the sub. To me it just feels snug and comforting. My visual field is filled by four video screens, three showing views from the external cameras, one a touch screen instrument panel.

The sub, painted electric green, is hanging upright in the swells like a vertical torpedo aimed at the center of the Earth. I tilt my 3-D camera, out on the end of its six-foot boom, to look up the face of the sub. The divers are getting into position to release the buoyant lift bag attached to the sub, holding it at the surface.

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