On January 23, 1960, the Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and his American co-adventurer Don Walsh dived to the bottom of the deepest underwater trench in the world, the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. They thus set a record that still stands.
Piccard and Walsh set out in the Trieste bathyscaphe, a deep-sea submersible Piccard had developed with his father, Auguste Piccard. The divers descended to 10,916 metres in nine hours.
Auguste Piccard was known for his record-breaking helium-filled balloon flights, with which he studied the Earth’s upper atmosphere. He used the physical principles of his stratospheric balloon to build the Trieste bathyscaphe, named after the region in Italy from which they received funding.
The Trieste was sold to the United States Navy, which was looking for a dumping ground for nuclear waste in an area devoid of marine life. Piccard and Walsh did find life, even at this depth, scuppering the US dumping plans.
Jacques Piccard died aged 86 in 2008. Don Walsh 88, is still alive.
“The moment we arrived, we had the immense good fortune to see, right in the middle of a circle of light from one of our beams, a fish. Thus, in one second, but after years of preparation, we could answer the question posed by thousands of oceanographers. Life, in a superiorly organised form, was possible whatever the depth.”
Jacques PiccardEnd of quote