Free divers honor missing champion

Free divers honor missing champion

Free divers in Grand Cayman paid tribute Saturday to champion free diver Natalia Molchanova who went missing during a dive this month in Ibiza, Spain, and is presumed dead. 

Seventeen local free divers, who dive without breathing apparatus, dedicated their dives on the Kittiwake wreck in Ms. Molchanova’s honor, after a memorial gathering on board a DiveTech boat. Ms. Molchanova, 53, from Russia, was considered the world’s most accomplished free diver. 

Emma Nicholsby from DiveTech, who organized the dive, read a dedication as well as a poem, “The Depth,” by Ms. Molchanova, who wrote poetry. The divers then placed flowers on the water in memory of Ms. Molchanova, who set 41 world records and claimed 23 world championship titles. 

They then dropped into the water and, each on a single breath, dived down to the wreck, the bottom of which sits 60 feet below, with some gliding through the giant ship’s corridors and swim-throughs and others swimming by its exterior or resting on the seabed floor. 

Ms. Nicholsby said free divers who train at DiveTech were familiar with Ms. Molchanova and her many achievements.  

“Because we are teaching the course, we show the students the different disciplines in free diving,” she said. “[Free diving association] AIDA lists the world records and they can see that she holds all the main records.” 

She said students are very interested in Ms. Molchanova, who was seen as a major inspiration for free divers. “She was in her 50s. She came to the sport late, she started in her 40s,” Ms. Nicholsby said. “She tried to break a new record on her birthday every year to highlight her age and the fact that you can start the sport at any age.” 

Ms. Nicholsby put out a call to free divers to take part in the memorial event after the news of Ms. Molchanova’s disappearance broke. She said all the spots on board the boat filled up in a day. 

Ms. Molchanova had been doing a recreational dive on Aug. 2 off the coast of Formentera, an island near Ibiza, off the east coast of Spain. An extensive, three-day search was launched after she failed to resurface, but her body was not recovered. 

“When someone important in this sport dies, I think people should be aware,” Ms. Nicholsby said. “It is very important to have people trained in free diving. We get people going out and trying it for fun who are not aware of the risks. 

“The main reason we teach the course is so people can learn about the safety procedures and the buddy system and shallow water blackouts. People don’t know the signs and symptoms [of shallow water blackouts] and how to recover someone from it.” 

Ms. Molchanova’s record dive without the use of fins was about 233 feet, which she set in May in Dahab, Egypt. She could hold her breath for nine minutes. 

Free diver Jan Feik places a flower on the water

Free diver Jan Feik places a flower on the water over the wreck of the Kittiwake Saturday as he and other divers prepare to take part in a memorial dive in honor of world champion free diver Natalia Molchanova. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA

Free divers float above the Kittiwake as one diver heads down to the deck of the ship. - PHOTO: NINA BAXA

Free divers float above the Kittiwake as one diver heads down to the deck of the ship. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA

A free diver swims by the wheelhouse of the wreck. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA

A free diver swims by the wheelhouse of the wreck. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA

No tank, no regulator, no BCD – Nina Baxa slips through the window of the Kittiwake’s wheelhouse.

No tank, no regulator, no BCD – Nina Baxa slips through the window of the Kittiwake’s wheelhouse.

Free diver Christian Black ascends. – PHOTOs: RICHARD WHITCOMBE

Free diver Christian Black ascends. – PHOTOS: RICHARD WHITCOMBE

Mark Rowe, diving without the long fins favored by free divers, makes his way toward the surface.

Mark Rowe, diving without the long fins favored by free divers, makes his way toward the surface.

Kurt Randolph takes the helm. - PHOTOS: RICHARD WHITCOMBE

Kurt Randolph takes the helm. – PHOTOS: RICHARD WHITCOMBE

Jan Feik wanders through the Kittiwake.

Jan Feik wanders through the Kittiwake.
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