On March 26, 2012, Avatar director James Cameron piloted his mini sub, the Deepsea Challenger—which he designed with engineer Ron Allum—to the deepest spot in the ocean, the 6.8–mile-down Mariana Trench. It was only the second time mankind had reached that depth, after Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made the trip in 1960 in the U.S. Navy’s hollow-steel bathyscaphe Trieste. Bold projects like this used to be possible only through government funding. Now the adventure world is dominated by individuals and companies with deep pockets.
These were the stages of James's deep sea dive:
Sea level: Two hundred miles off the coast of Guam, Cameron’s support vessel winches the 24-foot Deepsea Challenger into the Pacific.
650 feet: Descending at a rate of eight feet per second, the Challenger moves through the sunlight zone, where most ocean life resides, and into the twilight zone, where light fades and bioluminescent creatures like lanternfish live.
13,000 feet: Lights out—Cameron enters the pitch-black abyssal zone.
19,700 feet: Three-quarters of the ocean floor lies at this depth. The only deeper points are its trenches.
Touchdown: Two hours and 36 minutes after beginning his dive, Cameron arrives at 35,756 feet, where water pressure is 16,000 pounds per square inch. Before collecting sediment samples for analysis, Cameron sends out a tweet: “Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good.”