23 September 2005

Italian divers break underwater record after living at the bottom of the sea for 10 days

Two Italian divers have broken the world record for living underwater thanks to a 10-day stint in a 'house' on the seabed off the island of Ponza.

Stefano Barbaresi, 37, and Stefania Mensa, 29, surfaced on Saturday afternoon, looking tired and dazed after abandoning the watery home where they endured cold, fatigue and even, ironically, dehydration.

The pair's first requests were for "a real bed and some dry clothes." While living at a depth of eight metres, the two professional diving instructors had to sleep underneath bed frames which had been turned upside down. This was to stop the sleeper floating upwards.

Within the 18-square-metre patch of seabed there was a small bell-shaped structure where Barbaresi and Mensa ate, used the toilet and carried out daily medical tests.

But over 90% of their time was spent in their 'house', which contained two sofas, some chairs, a waterproofed television, some books and an exercise bike. All around was the clear blue sea with its fauna and flora. "I would have like to spend more time down there observing the marine life. I saw so many fish, even prettier than I expected," said Mensa after finishing her six-hour decompression session. "But I want to forget the cold. I suffered a lot from the low water temperature and that's why I spent so much time on the exercise bike." The previous record for living under water was set by an American who managed to last six days in Lake Michigan before giving up.

The record-breaking Italian initiative, which cost some 380,000 euros to organise, was partly an experiment designed to gauge the effects of prolonged immersion on the human body.

The aim was to provide scientific data for researchers at Rome's San Gallicano hospital. A medical team monitored the 'aquanauts' via closed circuit TV and carried out regular tests.

On the seventh day the team had to step in to deal with a minor emergency when Barbaresi collapsed due to tiredness and incipient dehydration. He was put on a drip in the dry area and soon recovered his strength.

Despite the difficulties, Barbaresi insisted the experience had been worth it and expressed the hope that his achievement might help counter a "widespread fear of the sea".

"It isn't full of danger, as some people think. It is in fact incredibly beautiful."

Source: www.ansa.it


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