Champion Deep Diver Feared Dead After Disappearing Near Ibiza

Photo: Jaques Munch/Getty Images.
Russian Natalia Molchanova shows the minus-86-meters tag that gives her a win in the first women's free-diving world championship, September 3, 2005, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France.
One of the greatest heroes of women's sports is missing: Russian deep-diving champion Natalia Molchanova.

Molchanova, 53, disappeared on Sunday while deep diving off the coast of Formentera, an island near Ibiza, with three fellow divers. She is now feared dead.

A statement from Molchanova's family and AIDA International, a deep-diving organization, explained that Molchanova and her peers were diving recreationally when she disappeared.

What happened to Molchanova while she was underwater is still unclear, but the champion athlete was aiming for a depth of 30 to 40 meters (over 100 feet). In her deepest dive ever, Molchanova reached 234 meters. At the time, she wore weights intended to facilitate her descent. Family and dive experts fear that those weights may have ensnared her, causing her death.

"Natalia Molchanova is the most decorated competitive freediver in the world," AIDA wrote on its site. She holds 41 world records and could hold her breath for more than nine minutes.

Natalia Molchanova holds 41 world records for deep diving and could hold her breath for more than nine minutes.

Deep diving has many definitions: Recreational deep diving is said to begin at a depth of 30 meters; professional deep diving cites a range of 18 to 30 meters.

Regardless, the sport is characterized by a potent risk of drowning resulting from complications including "high blood carbon dioxide levels (hypercapnia), oxygen toxicity, nitrogen narcosis, and decompression illness."

Put simply, for the average human, plunging to the depths that Molchanova did is a precarious, perilous activity. But Molchanova was not average.

"She was an inspiration to all freedivers and despite being one of the fiercest competitors in the world, she was always calm and relaxed during competitions," AIDA said in a statement.

In addition to her many diving accomplishments, Molchanova had two children, Oksana and Alexey. She and Alexey dived together frequently and teamed up to design Molchanova wetsuits, which are super-thin to decrease buoyancy. She earned a Ph.D. in pedagogical science and penned articles and textbooks for the diving community.

In a Facebook post from April, Alexey wrote, "I am asked a lot, what it is like to train with your mum...For me it is a norm but I realize that it is unique experience and appreciate much for all her time and effort!"

I am asked a lot, what it is like to train with your mum.Well, since I was 3, she is my coach or training partner, so I...

Posted by Alexey Molchanov on Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The diving website Deeper Blue reported that Molchanova may have been instructing Pavel Tyo, a wealthy Russian businessman, at the time of her disappearance. According to the site, Molchanova and Tyo were spotted diving off his 50-meter yacht, the Pumpkin.

Refinery29 reached out to the Capital Group, of which Tyo is co-owner, for comment, but no one was immediately available.

While divers continue to search for Molchanova's body, reports say that authorities discontinued the use of robots capable of reaching depths of 500 meters.

Fellow divers, like record breaker Will Trubridge, continue to mourn Molchanova via social media.

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