Three sub-aqua teams that pushed the limits of diving. The explorers thrust into the spotlight went way beyond their comfort zone – and then some.
Extreme dive photographer Norbert Wu has spent years virtually embedded under the ice of Antarctica, which he first visited way back in 1997.
One of the world’s last wildernesses, Antarctica is every bit as bone-chilling as you might think. “There were days where we had topside conditions of negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the saliva in my mask immediately turned to ice. My drysuit froze up so I could barely move,” Wu told PBS.
Still, Wu, from Atlanta, Georgia, persevered and fell under the spell of Antarctica, which he describes as “amazing”. The creatures he met under Antarctica’s groaning ice sheets look straight from Mars.
Picture bear-sized sponges, jellyfish armed with 30-feet tentacles and giant sea spiders inching through beds of coral. Picture emperor penguins fizzing through the frigid water like rockets.
The best wildlife shots that the Stanford engineering graduate with a daredevil streak has grabbed during his marathon teeth-chattering vigil appear in Under Antarctic Ice.
Two years back, wildlife photographer Roger Horrocks and underwater cinematographer Didier Noiret struck out for Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Their mission: to penetrate the depths of the “Dragon’s Lair” – a weedy maze of tunnels and chambers, carved by hippos and crocodiles.
Armed only with cameras and an unloaded spear gun, Horrocks – already famous for his shark photography – and Noiret – a buddy of diving legend Jacques Cousteau – entered the lair’s gin-clear water through lank beds of papyrus.
Horrocks and Noiret were on tenterhooks because the delta’s main tenant, the Nile crocodile, is the last predator on earth to view humans as prey. But Horrocks and Noiret continued. Over an almost two-year stint starting in 2009, they probed the recesses of the root-wrought emerald maze where crocs drag prey to die.
The divers knew that one false move could be terminal as they grappled with petrifying muddy black-outs and repeated brushes with crocs and hippos.
The mission highlight came when, deep in the lair, the divers came eyeball-to-eyeball with a monster 14-foot crocodile. Instead of dragging either diver into a death spiral, eerily the heavyweight accepted their presence.
Horrocks and Noiret duly grabbed footage that will take your breath away.
One of the most daring moments in diving dates right back to 1960 when sub-aqua diving legend Jacques Piccard plunged almost seven miles under the sea.
The feat earned Piccard the nickname “Captain Nemo”, after the hero of the Jules Verne science fiction novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.Adventure ran in Piccard’s family.
His father, Auguste, was the first to ride a hot air balloon into the stratosphere, and his son, Bertrand, was the first to fly a hot air balloon non-stop around the world.
But the exploit that put Jacques Piccard in the record books was his 1960 dive into the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the earth’s crust.
True, Piccard and his deep-sea buddy US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh were cocooned in a submersible called a bathyscaphe (Greek for “deep ship”). Still, their feat makes modern shark cage exploits look tame.
Imagine how it feels to go seven miles under and witness animals thought unable to live at such depths.
“By far the most interesting find was the fish that came floating by our porthole,” Piccard said. “We were astounded to find higher marine life forms down there at all.”
After his epic dive, Piccard worked for NASA and built four mid-depth submarines including the first for tourists – demonstrated at the 1964 Swiss National Exhibition when it took 33,000 passengers to Lake Geneva’s bottom.
The daredevil scientist died in 2008. His son, Jacques, said that he passed on “a sense of curiosity, a desire to mistrust dogmas and common assumptions, a belief in free will, and confidence in the face of the unknown.”
Jacques Piccard’s astonishingly bold seven-mile descent remains the deepest human dive ever.