Today we accomplished what has to be the deepest marine salvage operation ever!
Patrick Lahey and Jonathan Struwe (of maritime classification firm DNV GL) dove in the Limiting Factor – for the third time in just six days, to find Skaff. On the way down, we discovered that Skaff’s batteries actually held out longer than expected and we received a single “ping” from him informing us that Closp was within 100-200 meters of him, which really boosted our confidence in being able to find him. It almost seemed like a single plaintive cry for help from the lander who had been trapped in the dark at the bottom of the world for 2.5 days.
After initially vectoring towards a rendez-vous with lander Closp who had been sent ahead earlier , the team was able to find Skaff on the bottom with the sub’s sonar and maneuvered towards him. Once they found him, they carefully extended the sub’s manipulator arm, gave Skaff a good shove, and he escaped from the mud he had sunk into and began ascending to the surface! A big cheer went up in the control room when we heard this. Five hours later, the sub, Patrick and John, and both landers were all on the ship and we were back to full strength with all landers. It was an amazing mission at the very bottom of the ocean. We don’t think it is even possible to have a deeper salvage mission because Skaff was pretty much at the Deep’s deepest point.
A nice side benefit of the dive is that it demonstrated to Jonathan and DNV GL the safety and capabilities of the sub, and he granted us full commercial certification for the Limiting Factor – the first time any deep submergence vehicle has been given such a safe rating by a class agency. We are so proud of the entire team here for that achievement and the recovery operation.
This was also Patrick’s first dive to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, making him the second Canadian to do so (James Cameron was first) and Jonathan is now the first German national to make the journey!