It will be August 2003 when a team of two men will attempt to break the world record depth for a trimix dive. Those two men are Mark Andrews and Leigh Cunningham and the target depth they have set is 333meters/1100ft!
Mark Andrews is the current record holder of the deep air record and Leigh Cunningham is the Red Sea’s deepest diver, so they are no strangers to deep diving.
Mark’s career in diving started in 1993, having been trained by the current word record trimix diver John Bennett. Mark then went on to become a PADI instructor and travel around the world teaching diving. Since setting the deep air record (156.4m/513.12ft) Mark has become a Trimix instructor trainer for four agencies and for the past 2 years has been training for the forthcoming record attempt.
Leigh has been diving for 10 years, and began his underwater adventures in the Red Sea. Leigh soon became a recreational instructor, but his proximity to the “Blue Hole” in Dahab, where he worked, sparked his interest in diving deeper. He was aware of the “Blue Hole’s” reputation for claiming divers’ lives, and as such, embarked on training and education to show the site the respect it deserves. Leigh says, “It’s a bit like the steeplejack – he will only fall off once. When you do this every day, you have to be prepared every day.”
It has been 7 years since he began his journey through the technical diving education required to facilitate this kind of diving, and Leigh is now a technical instructor trainer and held the Red Sea depth record with a dive 220m, this record is now held by another diver and stands at 240m.
A rigorous training plan is now well under way, and this includes both mental and physical preparation.
Time to reach the target depth of 333m is 18 minutes. With just one minute spent at this depth, Mark and Leigh must embark on 15 hours of decompression. To facilitate this, they must be prepared to remain hydrated and keep their bodies electrolyte, minerals and chemicals in balance. “We stay hydrated underwater by drinking intravenous fluids straight from a drip, as you would see in hospital. It doesn’t taste much different to the surrounding sea! We also eat Mars bars and bananas – salty ones!” Mark told us.
Warmth is also a consideration, since they will be breathing a gas mix containing 87% helium for the bottom phase of the dive, the body heat will be wicked away very quickly and their core temperature is important for efficient off gassing during the decompression stage of the dive. The suits chosen are O’Three RI suits, with an all-new two-piece undersuit.
The dive itself will take place in Sharm El Sheik, which is an area that Mark and Leigh are very familiar. Mark spends one week each month in Egypt and dives with Leigh on practice dives. For the first two days, they dive together using air with the diving equipment that they will use for the dive. These dives are video recorded for later analysis and then any adjustments to the rigs are made before spending TWO DAYS mixing gases and preparing the diving rigs for the big dive of the week. Each month they increase the depth by 20m/66ft and are currently at 220m/722ft, with their next scheduled meeting in April to be a planned depth of 240m/788ft.
Meticulously planned safety considerations are required throughout all of the training and the attempt itself. The local search and rescue team, operated by Dr Hamdy Samy, provide two ribs and paramedics. In practice, the team have been able to evacuate to the chamber, which is on standby, in 20 minutes. The chamber is operated by Dr Adel Taher and has a copy of the dive plan and sufficient mixes and volumes of gases to a conduct a Comex table if necessary.
Equipment needed for this dive is extensive, with Mark and Leigh carrying all of their gas required for the descent and bottom phase of the dive. This involves ten tanks of breathing gases and two double bladder wings to lift them and their rigs from the target depth. Regulators are Poseidon Extreme, which they have used during training with great results. For additional light, they are using custom built Greenforce torches, which are a mixture of LEDs and HIDs, and are each depth rated to 400m.