Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron has completed the world's first solo dive to the deepest place on the planet, the Mariana Trench. His dive was only the second-manned descent in history to the tantalizing Pacific Ocean trench.
Cameron began his descent today (March 26) at 5:15 a.m. local time (3:15 p.m. ET yesterday). The trip down to the area of the trench known as the Challenger Deep — 35,756 feet (10,890 meters), or nearly 7 miles (11 km) beneath the surface of the sea — took two hours and 36 minutes.
Cameron had planned to remain at the bottom for six hours, but a hydraulic fluid leak in his specially designed deep-sea submersible, built in secrecy over the course of eight years, cut his trip to the Earth's deepest spot to three hours. [Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench]
The man behind the blockbuster films "The Abyss," "Titanic" and "Avatar" resurfaced nearly seven hours after his dive began, at noon local time, and described the view at the bottom as "bleak."
"It looked like the moon," Cameron told reporters with the National Geographic Society, co-sponsors of the mission, along with Swiss watchmaker Rolex.
"I didn't see a fish. ... I didn't find anything that looked alive to me, other than a few amphipods in the water," Cameron told reporters upon his return. Amphipods are a type of crustacean common in oceans around the world. "Supergiant" amphipods were recently found in another of the world's deepest ocean trenches, yet Cameron didn't indicate the amphipods he'd seen were unusual.
Cameron was unable to complete the geological and biological sampling he'd planned for the trip. The hydraulic leak prevented the submersible's mechanical arm from working properly.
In addition, because of a few glitches with equipment aboard the Deepsea Challenger, Cameron's craft, the team didn't launch its deep-sea lander, a baited contraption designed to sink to the trench ahead of Cameron's trip to attract any predators that might be lurking in the darkness.
The only other living person to visit the Mariana Trench was one of the first to greet Cameron when he emerged from the 43-inch-wide cockpit of his lime-green submersible. U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh was waiting on board the vessel that launched the deep-sea craft.
Walsh, along with Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard, reached the Challenger Deep in 1960. They spent about 20 minutes parked on the seafloor, surrounded by a swirl of mud kicked up by their deep-diving metal craft.
Cameron told Walsh he felt a real kinship with the retired Navy man and his Swiss companion during his descent.
"[I was] thinking, man, this is a long way down ... It's crazy," Cameron said.
Cameron has said he plans to make more dives into the Mariana Trench.