Russian born Natalie Molchanova, the world's most decorated free diver went missing on Sunday during a recreational dive off the coast of Formentera, a small Spanish island near Ibiza.
Free diving is a form of diving where divers do not use any apparatus, instead relying on their own breath. According to AIDA International, the international federation of free diving, free diving is not only a relaxing leisure activity but also a fiercely competitive sport:
"As well as the perfect way to relax at the weekend, free diving is an international competitive sport. Professional freedivers exploit the bodies' diving adaptations to go to depths of over 200m on a single breath. These diving reflexes help conserve oxygen by restricting the blood flow to your extremities conserving it for your vital organs."
According to a joint statement issued by her family and AIDA International, 53 year old Natalia may have been exposed to strong underwater currents while diving that caused her to become separated from her friends:
"Natalie Molchanova was recreationally freediving off the coast of Spain on August 2, 2015 when she was separated from her peers. She was diving without fins to around 30 to 40m and supposedly got into a strong underwater current. Search efforts have been ongoing during daylight hours and the next day since she was reported missing by three peers. She disappeared while diving approximately two miles northwest of the port of La Savina at Poniente de es Freus."
For Natalia, who is the only female free diver in history to break the 100 metre barrier, a dive of 30 to 40 metres is well within her scope of experience.
Natalia during her 2013 world record dive when she became the first female free diver in history to break the 100m mark (Image from Facebook)
The New York Times reports that after Natalia failed to resurface from her dive, those accompanying her quickly radioed for help. Shortly afterwards, the local Coast Guard and a number of other private boats where deployed to scan the coast for her. Later both a helicopter and an underwater robot were incorporated into the search efforts, but to no avail. By nightfall on Tuesday, 4 August there was still no sign of the accomplished diver.
During the fateful dive, Natalia was not using a line to tether her, as she would normally.
Natalia's family has accepted that she is probably dead. Her son, 28 year old Alexey Molchanov who, like his mother is a champion diver, told the New York Times that he believes she will stay lost at sea."It seems she'll stay in the sea. I think she would like that."
In their statement, the family honoured Natalia's accomplishments:
"Natalia Molchanova is the most decorated competitive freediver in the world, holding 41 World Records and is a 23 time World Champion in Freediving. Natalia trained hard for her sport, she had a nine minute breath hold, could dive to a depth of 101m using a fin, and swim a distance of 234m with a fin. Along with being one of the top athletes in the world she has a PhD in Pedagogical Science and has authored multiple scientific articles and two freediving training handbooks. She is the creator and current president of the Freediving Federation of Russia. She designed and taught freediving programmes all over the world. She is based out of Moscow and has created one of the most vibrant recreational freediving communities in the world. Natalia has trained thousands of people to freedive in locations worldwide."
Natalia out on a dive in 2010 (Image from Facebook)
"Natalia is a proud mother of Oksana and Alexey. She loved children and was awaiting the day when she would become a grandmother. 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. She said “birth and death are important, but freediving competitions are just games for adults”. The cause of Natalia’s disappearance is unknown, but she was doing what she loved. "Natalia has a passion for freediving that burned so deep inside of her that she dedicated her life to it."
Tributes have flooded in for the accomplished diver, with many fellow free diver tweeting their condolences to the family:
— Shaz (@sugarbean555) August 4, 2015