By ROB WAUGH and THOMAS DURANTE
James Cameron emerges from the Deepsea Challenger submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean
James Cameron has become the first solo diver to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep - the deepest point on Earth.
But the Avatar director revealed he cut the mission three hours short after hydraulic fluid started leaking into his sub. The 57-year-old described it as ‘a heck of a ride.’
The ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ director planned to spend seven hours under water but decided to head back up after spotting the leak.
‘I saw a lot of hydraulic oil come up in front of the port. The port was coated with it. I couldn’t pick anything up so I began to feel like it was a moment of diminishing returns to go on,’ he explained.
‘I lost a lot of thrusters. I lost the whole starboard side. That’s when I decided to come up. I couldn’t go any further - I was just spinning in a circle,’ he added.
Success: James Cameron gives two thumbs-up as he emerges from the Deepsea Challenger today after his successful solo dive in the Mariana Trench
Director becomes first human to visit bottom of trench since January 1960
Cuts short dive after hydraulic failure
Cameron descended 35,756 feet (6.77 miles/10.89km) to reach 'Challenger Deep' in the Mariana Trench
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Branson and Jessica Alba tweet support
First of several competing missions to deepest point on Earth
Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is high
Returned to the surface in faster-than-expected 70 minutes
Cameron filmed the journey for a feature-length documentary
Cameron's dive took him to a part of the ocean no one has visited for 50 years - and he is the only human being to have travelled and returned solo
‘It was bleak. It looked like the moon. I didn’t see a fish. I didn’t see anything that looked alive to me, other than a few shrimplike amphipods in the water,’ he added.
Cameron, who knows a little about alien worlds having made the movie Avatar, said when he got to this strange cold, dark place seven miles below the western Pacific Ocean that only two other men have been to, 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 savour where they were.
Relief: The trip was fraught with danger but Cameron made it safely back with divers ready to aid the director if needed
‘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 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 realised how alone he was, with that much water above him.
‘It's really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realising how tiny you are down in this big vast black unknown and unexplored place,’ Cameron said.
Cameron said he had hoped to see some 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 animals on the sea floor as he did when he dove more than five miles deep weeks ago. All he saw were voracious shrimp-like critters that weren't bigger than an inch.
The Mariana trench: The last visitors to the bottom went there in January 1960
But that was okay, he said, it 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.
He 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 it was less than the six hours he had hoped. He said he would return.
‘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.
Moment of truth: Deepsea Challenger carrying Carmon is hoisted into the Pacific Ocean on its way to the bottom of the Mariana Trench
He spent time filming the Mariana Trench, which is about 200 miles 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.
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.
Deep-water testing of the submersible that explorer and filmmaker James Cameron will pilot to the bottom of the Mariana Trench
When Cameron climbed into his sub, it was warm because it was near the equator and his cramped vehicle - his head hit one end and his feet the other - was toasty because of the heat given off by electronics. It felt ‘like a sauna’ with temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
But as he plunged into the deep, the temperature outside the sub dropped to around 36 degrees, 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.
Pressure's on: Deepsea Challenger undergoes deep-water testing in preparation for today's dive
‘It's a very weird environment,’ Cameron said. ‘I can't say it's very comfortable. And you can't stretch out.’
Cameron gave two thumbs up when he triumphantly resurfaced.
His first words to the surface upon reaching the bottom were 'all systems OK', National Geographic said on its website.
As he hit the bottom, he tweeted: 'Just arrived at the ocean's deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can't wait to share what I'm seeing w/ you.'
Time for deep exploration: A one-off Rolex capable of withstanding pressure down to 12,000m is attached to the side of the sub
RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE!' were the last words Cameron uttered before beginning the dive, according to a Twitter post from the expedition.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared in Cameron's Terminator films, showed his support for the director via Twitter. 'Congrats to my great friend on the deepest solo dive ever. Always a pioneer'.
Richard Branson and Jessica Alba were just a couple of the other celebrities who got behind Cameron's journey.
Race is on: James Cameron's team tested the Deepsea Challenger in the ocean at Jervis Bay, south of Sydney, Australia before he set off today
The scale of the trench is hard to grasp - it is 120 times larger than the Grand Canyon and more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
While it didn't need it, the submarine Cameron helped design has the capability to support life for a 56-hour dive.
The first and only time anyone dove to these depths was in 1960.
Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh took nearly five hours to reach the bottom and stayed just 20 minutes.
Swinging above the docks in Guam's Apra Harbor is the Trieste, the submersible that took Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard on the first and only successful manned dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench
They didn't have much to report on what they saw there, however, because their submarine kicked up so much sand from the ocean floor they couldn't see much.
Cameron said earlier this month that, after a 5.1 mile-deep practice run near Papua New Guinea, the pressure 'is in the back of your mind.'
The submarine would implode in an instant if it leaked, he said.
But while he was a little apprehensive beforehand, he wasn't scared or nervous while underwater.
Precedent: Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh emerge from the bathyscaphe Trieste following their successful manned descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in January 1960
'When you are actually on the dive you have to trust the engineering was done right,' he said.
The latest dive site, which is at the deepest point in the Mariana Trench, is named Challenger Deep after the British naval vessel HMS Challenger that used sound to first measure its depth.
The film director has been an oceanography enthusiast since childhood and has made 72 deep-sea submersible dives.
Thirty-three of those dives have been to the wreckage of the Titanic, the subject of his 1997 hit film.
Fingers crossed: James Cameron (far right) and Don Walsh (far left), who was aboard the only other successful manned descent to the Mariana Trench in 1960