Famed Free Diver Natalia Molchanova Presumed Dead After Disappearing in Ocean

Natalia Molchanova Getty

One of the world’s top free divers is missing and presumed dead after disappearing under the waves in the ocean off the coast of Spain last Sunday.

Natalia Molchanova practiced off the eastern coast of Spain, two miles west of La Savina at Poniente de es Freus, when she made an attempt to make what should have been an easy dive for her. But once she slipped under the water she was never seen again and after three days of intensive searching for her Molchanova’s family now believes she perished during the dive.

A free diver does not use oxygen tanks and relies only on a developed ability to hold his or her breath for an extended period of time. Free divers descend with a weight to help them go straight down and often use mono-flippers to speed the process but rely on no breathing apparatus.

Molchanova, a Russian citizen, holds numerous free diving world records with her personal best being a dive of 233 feet. Her death shocked the sport.

“She was a free-diving superstar, and we all thought nothing could harm her,” Kimmo Lahtinen, the president of the global federation for free diving, known as AIDA, told reporters this week. “Nothing could happen to her, but, you know, we are playing with the ocean, and when you play with the ocean, you know who is the strongest one.”

Fellow free diver Will Trubridge, himself a 15-time world-record holder, mourned her loss, saying, “The world has lost its greatest free diver. I don’t think anybody would dispute that.”

“Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” Molchanova said last year. “When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think, we are separate. On surface, it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”

Free diving is assumed to have a relatively good safety record, but by one estimate deaths and accidents have been on the rise since 2008.

The sport is often troubled by the fact that there are no clear statistics on how often deaths and injuries occur. “The statistics are a bit murky,” Outside magazine reported in 2012. “Some deaths go unreported, and the numbers that are kept include people who freedive as part of other activities, like spearfishing. But one estimate of worldwide freediving-related fatalities revealed a nearly threefold increase, from 21 deaths in 2005 to 60 in 2008.”

Indeed, diving enthusiast website Dive Wise maintains statistics on fee diving deaths, but only 11 percent of those deaths are directly classified as having occurred in the sport of free diving. All other deaths were attributed to other sports or activities that also do not require air tanks.

One of the last well-known free-diving deaths occurred in 2013. Nicholas Mevoli, 32, tried to set a record by diving to 236 feet on one breath. He made a dive, re-surfaced, flashed the OK sign, but then lapsed into unconsciousness. He died shortly thereafter.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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