Natalia Molchanova, 53, Disappears into the Depths off Ibiza, and the World Loses Its Greatest Free Diver

by Owen James Burke

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Above: Natalia Molchanova, world champion free diver, presumed dead. Photo: Daan Verhoeven.

Natalia Molchanova has often been hailed as the best free diver in the world and few, apart from perhaps the sperm whale, would be in any position to make a point of contention. In 2013, she became the first woman to break the 100 meter mark, diving off Kalamata, Greece during the world championships. Throughout her career, she’s set 41 world records and claimed 23 world championship titles–that’s every woman’s record except for the “zero limits” category. Today, she is missing and tragically, presumed dead.

This past Sunday in the Balearic Sea off Ibiza, Spain, she made a routine plunge into the deep blue while instructing two inexperienced free divers. Worry set in several minutes later when she was expected to surface, but was nowhere to be seen. Seconds turned to minutes and it became evident that something had gone badly wrong.

The competitive free diver is a unique breed, and their high-risk pursuits extend well beyond simple athleticism or acclaim. For Ms. Molchanova, free diving had at least as much to do with a spiritual identity. “Free diving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,” she explained to The Times last year:

“When we go down, if we don’t think, we understand we are whole. We are one with world. When we think, we are separate. On surface, it is natural to think and we have many information inside. We need to reset sometimes. Free diving helps do that.”

“It seems she’ll stay in the sea,” her son, Alexey Molchanov–also a world champion freediver– told The New York Times. “I think she would like that.”

Read the full story at The New York Times. -OJB

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