Free Diver Dies Trying to Break World Record

ByABC News via GMA logo
October 16, 2002, 8:40 PM

Oct. 17 -- Champion free diver Audrey Mestre took a single breath, then dove 561 feet to try to try to break a world record. But the 28-year-old French woman did not make it back up alive.

She blacked out and died Saturday after her plunge into deep waters near La Romana, 81 miles east of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Mestre was attached to a 200-pound weight mounted on a steel cable to help her get to the proper depth. She was trying to break the "no limits" dive world record of 531.5 feet set by her husband, Francisco "Pipin" Ferreras in January 2000. Together, they were the most famous free-diving couple in the world.

But on Mestre's way up to the surface during that fateful dive, she blacked out at a depth of 300 feet. A safety diver activated an emergency inflatable device, and rushed her to the surface using his inflatable jacket. Ferreras desperately tried to revive her using mouth-to-mouth, but it was too late.

The woman who had become the world's best free diver had died. The dive was only supposed to take three minutes, and she had been underwater more than nine minutes without oxygen.

Dangerous Sport Requires Training

Free diving is dangerous, and in some cases deadly sport. There are about 5,000 free divers around the world, and an estimated 100 die each year. The divers say there is a sense of euphoria being so far down, and liken the experience to being in outer space. It puts the body through great physiological changes, which in some cases leads to death.

Unlike scuba divers, free divers do not use oxygen tanks, and instead, simply take a deep breath and dive at least 400 feet, the equivalent of a 40-story skyscraper. Free divers basically push their bodies to the limit: as they descend hundreds of feet, their heart rates slow to as low as 14 beats a minute, their lungs shrink and blood surges from the extremities to the heart and the brain.

To counteract the impact, divers must train in proper breathing techniques. The lower third of the lungs contain two-thirds of the blood supply, and it is the blood that holds the oxygen and carries it throughout the body.