Director James Cameron on stage with Deep Sea Challenger at California Science Center on June 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

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Director James Cameron on stage with Deep Sea Challenger at California Science Center on June 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
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Keipher McKennie / WireImage / Getty
  • In September, film director James Cameron contacted The New York Times, by Victor Vescovo, who was arrested by a millionaire adventurer, that he had completed the deepest submarine dive in history.
  • Vescovo had dived down to the Mariana Trench, off the coast of Guam – the same area Cameron had dived down to seven years earlier.
  • What irked Cameron what is the area is flat, according to what he said.
  • Yet Vescovo was claiming he'd gone 52 feet deeper.
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Academy Award winning director James Cameron does not seem to be upstaged.

In September, Victor Vescovo declared he had completed the deepest submarine dive in history.

The dive down to a trough called Challenger Deep, which means Cameron dove down to seven years earlier. Cameron questioned Vescovo's claim since he had previously found the area to be flat. He argued that it should have been impossible to go any deeper. Yet Vescovo claimed he'd gone 52 feet further.

What follows, as the two wealthy men disagreed via the headlines of international media companies, is a little unusual.

Here's what happened.


This strange argument between two wealthy "gentleman explorers" started when Cameron emailed The New York Times with the subject "Request to Speak."

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Director James Cameron in 2016.
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Gabe Ginsberg / WireImage / Getty

Sources: The New York Times, Vulture


Cameron is famous for directing box-office hits like "Titanic", "The Terminator", and "Avatar". He's also known for his environmental activism and deep sea diving.

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Director James Cameron attends the "Titanic 3D" World Premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on March 27, 2012 in London, England.
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Jon Furniss / WireImage / Getty

Sources: Popular Science, Vulture


Cameron has made several films and documentaries about the sea, as well as regular deep-sea diving himself. He's plunged two miles down to the wreck of the Titanic 33 times.

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Director James Cameron attends the 'Challenging The Deep' Exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, New South Wales.
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James Croucher / Newspix / Getty

Source: The New York Times


In 2012, Cameron descended nearly 7 miles in a mini submarine to touch down on Challenger Deep. His aim is to take photos and samples of deep sea fauna.

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The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is the centerpiece of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific project by explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.
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Mark Thiessen / National Geographic

Sources: Wired, The New York Times


Challenger Deep is a trough on the Mariana trench, which is the deepest part of the world's oceans, located in the western Pacific off the coast of Guam.

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Mariana trench map.
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Wikimedia

Source: The New York Times


Cameron was not the first to reach it. That was achieved in 1960, by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, two men in the US Navy. The pair spent 20 minutes down below, but could not take any pictures, as their submarine is up to much of the seafloor.

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Lieutenant Larry Shumaker, Jacques Piccard, dr. Andres B. Rechnitzer and Lieutenant Don Walsh with Charles Dail.
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Bettmann / Getty

Sources: The Guardian, The New York Times


When Cameron went, he spent three hours exploring the trough. He said he was struck by how lunar the landscape was.

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A submersible works at a depth of 7,062 meters on June 27, 2012 in the western Pacific Ocean.
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Visual China Group / Getty

Sources: Wired, The New York Times


William J. Broad wrote that his dive signaled "the rising importance of entrepreneurs in the global race to advance science and technology."

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Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron emerges from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean.
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Mark Thiessen / National Geographic / Handout

Sources: Wired, The New York Times


One of those entrepreneurs, on the other side of this public feud, is multi-millionaire Victor Vescovo. The Guardian described him as "desperate to prove himself as the world's 'ultimate explorer'"

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Victor Vescovo.
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Mike Marsland / Getty for Omega

Source: The Guardian


He's climbed the highest peak on every continent, including Everest, and skied over the North and South Poles. But this might be the first time it had a disagreement make international headlines.

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Victor Vescovo on Mt Everest.
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Wikimedia

Sources: The New York Times, Insight Equity


In April 2019, Vescovo thus successfully completed a dive to Challenger Deep.

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Victor Vescovo.
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Reeve Jolliffe / Five Deep Expedition

Sources: Wired, The New York Times


The dive was part of a $ 48 million attempt to dive to the deepest point in five oceans, which he's since completed.

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Limiting Factor.
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Five Deeps Expedition

Source: The New York Times


After the dive, Vescovo's press release had the headline, "Deepest Submarine Dive in History."

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Victor Vescovo in 2019.
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Wikimedia

Sources: Five Deeps, The New York Times


What set Cameron on fire is that he descended 35,853 feet, which is 52 feet lower than Cameron went in 2012.

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Director James Cameron speaks onstage in 2010.
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Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty

Source: Wired, The New York Times


But Cameron said he could not have gone deeper because the bottom was "flat and featureless." So even if Vescovo's gauge was different from Cameron's, the director said it was not correct. "I've got that result," he told Wired. "I also question why nobody else has questioned that result."

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Director James Cameron in 2018.
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Tommaso Boddi / Getty for AMC

Sources: Wired, The New York Times


Cameron is not alone with this conclusion. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution also explored the area in 2009.

Sources: The New York Times, Popular Science


Andy Bowen, who led the expedition, said it was like the Utah desert. So he said Vescovo's claim of finding a deeper part was unlikely.

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A shot from Vescovo's Five Deeps expedition.
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Five Deeps Expedition

Sources: The New York Times, Popular Science


Vescovo responded to Cameron's questions by saying he had better, newer equipment that gave more accurate readings of the ocean's depth.

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The Limiting Factor submarine.
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Tamara Stubbs / Five Deeps Expedition

Source: The New York Times


"Vescovo told The Times. "On this point, however, I scientifically disagree."

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Victor Vescovo.
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Tamara Stubbs / Limiting Factor

Source: The New York Times


It's difficult to say who's right because it's hard to measure at exact depth. Strong ocean currents mean traditional measuring by a cable is impossible.

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Above the Mariana Trench.
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Five Deeps Expedition

Instead of doing it by sound or pressure, taking into account things like gravity. But even with the best technology, there will be a margin of error.

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Victor piloting Limiting Factor on bottom of Mariana Trench.
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Five Deeps Expedition

Source: Wired


In September, Vescovo's figure was lowered by 13 feet to 35,840 feet. This still has Vescovo as having gone deeper.

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Victor Vescovo on board of his ship "Pressure Drop"
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Wikimedia

Source: The New York Times


Vescovo's crew estimated the margin of error for his dive could be up to 70 feet.

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Some of the crew on Vescovo's expedition.
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Reeve Jolliffe / Five Deeps Expedition

Source: The New York Times


Vescovo said the difference of 50 feet was "splitting hairs" when they were about to fall over the 35,000 feet. But that's easy for Vescovo to say when he's the one who's gonna go deeper.

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Victor Vescovo laughs as he prepares to dive into his submersible, the Limiting Factor.
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Wikimedia

Source: Wired


And it clearly matters to Cameron. He told Popular Science, "At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, it's important to have the deepest point in our world's oceans is a flat, featureless plain."

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James Cameron tests at the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee Hearing.
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Paul Morigi / Getty

Source: Popular Science


Mark Zumberge, a geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has said it is a big deal for everyone. "There's a great deal of scientific interest in how the ocean floor varies in a few meters," he said.

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Director James Cameron.
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James Croucher / Newspix / Getty

Sources: The Guardian, Popular Science


And both of them agree that the ocean's depths are under-appreciated, and scientists need more funding.

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The Limiting Factor.
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Five Deeps Expedition

Source: Wired