World-famous Mariana Trench explorer and deep sea-legend, dies

Written by Jeppe W

Nov.20 - 2023 10:13 AM CET

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Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com

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The oceanic world mourns the loss of one of its most celebrated figures, Captain Don Walsh, who passed away at the age of 92. Renowned for his unprecedented dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, Walsh's journey remains a testament to human courage and curiosity.

His dive in 1960 aboard the bathyscaphe Trieste, along with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, marked a historic milestone, plunging nearly 11 kilometers (seven miles) into the abyss.

At a time when space exploration captivated global attention, the 28-year-old Walsh, then a submarine lieutenant in the US Navy, embarked on a journey that was quite the opposite.

The mission was to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a feat never before attempted. Despite initial shock at the depth they were to conquer, Walsh and Piccard's determination led them to the ocean's deepest point.

The journey was not without its challenges. As they descended into the dark, crushing depths, their vessel, the Trieste, creaked under the immense pressure.

A startling bang at around 9,000 meters added to the suspense, but the duo decided to press on. After five hours, they reached the Mariana Trench's floor, stirring up sediment that obscured any chance of clear photographs.

Despite the difficulties, their achievement was monumental. They spent about 20 minutes on the seafloor, discovering that the bang heard during descent was due to a cracked acrylic window.

Fortunately, it wasn't critical to the vessel's integrity, allowing them a safe return to the surface.

Their return was marked by quiet reflection rather than exuberant celebration. The dive earned them global recognition, including the Legion of Merit from US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Walsh's contributions extended beyond this historic dive. He was an advocate for oceanic exploration and safety, a professor of ocean engineering, and a consultant.

He warned against potential submersible tragedies and was a key figure in the resurgence of interest in the Mariana Trench, supporting the 2012 and 2019 dives to the same depths he had once explored.

Don Walsh's legacy is not just in the record books but in the understanding and exploration of our oceans. His pioneering spirit, unwavering in the face of the unknown, serves as an inspiration for future generations of ocean explorers.

Watch an incredible animation shows how deep the ocean really is:

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