An Australian free-diver has created a new world record by swimming through the country’s longest ocean cave on a single breath.
Mike Wells, 39, swam 395 feet (120 metres) through Fish Rock Cave, a long, pitch-black ocean chamber 85 feet (26m) below the surface in just two minutes and 40 seconds.
The 19-year veteran of free-diving made it through the cave on his third attempt after bad cramp forced him to abandon the first two tries.
He narrowly averted disaster on his final dive when his monofin became trapped in a narrow crevice until his son Jeremy, a member of the support team, freed him.
“It was very hard,” Mr Wells said after the dive. ” But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, literally.”
Mr Wells, who describes free-diving as a “grand madness” followed a rope to dive down 85 feet before entering the tunnel and swimming through the cave to the pool of light that marked its exit.
When cramps halted his second attempt, he said: “I could see the exit and it was very disheartening. I almost felt like crawling out.”
Fish Rock Cave, on the mid NSW Coast, is a popular but notoriously hazardous dive spot. Dark and tortuously twisted with an ocean surge that sweeps through the narrow chambers, it is a challenge for any diver.
Until Mr Wells’ attempt, most experts thought the cave was just too long and dangerous for anyone to get through it without the aid of tanks.
Mr Wells, a professional diver, said the idea of diving the cave had always been “deep within my psyche.”
“This site has been close to my heart for years,” he said on a blog to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Despite the difficulties of the dive, he said:”there were lots of sharks and fish so I had the comfort of seeing the ocean’s creatures.”
Free divers are a small, elite band of divers who train their bodies to withstand extreme pressure, with abnormally low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels.
Before he dived through Fish Rock Cave, Mr Well’s respiratory specialist, Professor Matthew Peters, described to Channel 9 television the pressure that would be placed on his body: “During this dive, his lungs will compress dramatically, his diaphragm will move up, his ribs will cave in,” said Profesor Peters.
“He’ll be under great pressure, great distortion of his belly and chest.”
On an online chat site Mr Wells said he relaxed almost to the point of sleep to keep his oxygen intake low.
“One thing I do is to try and almost fall asleep partly closing my eyes, but just open them enough so I can see where I’m going,” he said. “I take in the surrounds, the fish, the rays the corals, sponges, and try to forget the urge to breathe. This keeps my body relaxed and ultimately I use less oxygen.
“As the breath hold progresses I can really feel my heart beating, I can feel every twitch of every muscle as it’s so quiet while diving, dead silence,” he said.