South African sets diving record

13 June 2005

South African Nuno Gomes reclaimed the world scuba deep-diving record by descending to 318.25m below the Red Sea on Friday. The 52-year-old civil engineer now holds the cave, sea and overall depth records.

In 1996 Gomes reached a depth of 286.2m in the Northern Cape’s Boesmansgat cave. With the cave’s altitude of 1 500m above sea level, this represented a dive of 337m – making it the world’s deepest scuba dive at the time.

Gomes’s new record beats the 313m set by Briton Mark Ellyat off the coast of Thailand in 2003.

Gomes made an attempt on the record at Daha in the Red Sea last year, but was forced to turn around at “only 271m” due to equipment failure caused by the extreme pressure.

As well as the intense pressure, the deep diver braves helium tremors and nitrogen narcosis, due to the vast quantity of gases consumed. In setting the Boesmansgat record, Gomes inhaled over 54 000 litres of various gases, using nine different gas mixtures.

While the descent to 318.25m took less than 15 minutes, with one minute of “bottom time”, the ascent took more than 12 hours. This was to allow Gomes’s body to decompress, flushing out all the gas inspired under pressure. Many of those 12 hours were spent within a few metres of the surface.

During the ascent Gomes was accompanied by the nine members of his support team, who communicated with him using pens and boards.

An “oxygen tree” was constructed for the 2004 record attempt, allowing Gomes to hang at -9m, -6m or -3m for the last, and longest, stages of his decompression.

The women’s world scuba deep-diving record is also held by a South African, Verna van Schaik. Both Van Schaik and Gomes are members of Wits University’s Underwater Club, one of the world’s most experienced deep diving outfits.