World’s Greatest Free Diver Missing in Ibiza, Spain

SwellBrains | | SurfSurf
Natalia Molchanova free diving.  photo:  Daan Verhoeven
Natalia Molchanova free diving. photo: Daan Verhoeven

“The world has lost its greatest free diver.  I don’t think anybody would dispute that.” – Will Trubridge, a 15-time free diving world-record holder

53-year-old Russian free diver Natalia Molchanova is often considered the greatest free diver in history.  Today she is missing after a free dive off the coast of Formentera, an island near Ibiza, Spain.  The dive she was performing was a recreational dive in 79º water to a depth that was easy for her.  She never resurfaced after this dive and she hasn’t been seen since.

Natalia was free diving with 3 other divers when she disappeared on Sunday.  They were diving for fun and were not using a safety line that free divers sometimes use for depth marking and security.

Russian Natalia Molchanova displaying a “minus 86 metres” tag that gave her a win in the first women’s free-diving world championship in September 2005 in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. File photograph: Jacques Munch/AFP/Getty Images
Natalia Molchanova displaying a “minus 86 metres” tag that gave her a win in the first women’s free-diving world championship in September 2005 in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. photo:  Jacques Munch/AFP/Getty Images

“She was a free-diving superstar and we all thought nothing could harm her.  Nothing could happen to her, but, you know, we are playing with the ocean, and when you play with the ocean you know who is the strongest one.” – Kimmo Lahtinen, the president of the global federation for free diving

The possibilities surrounding her disappearance are endless.  Shark, strong current, head trauma, blackout, heart attack, pulmonary embolism, aneurism, stroke, no one knows.  She is not expected to be found alive.

When Natalia failed to surface on Sunday, her fellow free divers performed a brief search for her before calling search and rescue via radio.  Many private boats in the area and the Coast Guard showed up.  A helicopter was deployed and aided in the search until dark on Sunday.  The search continued on Monday with a diving robot with no sign of Natalia.

Natalia holds 23 world championship titles and 41 world records and  including becoming the only woman in free diving history to break the 100-meter (328 foot) mark, at the Free Diving World Championships in Kalamata, Greece in 2013.  Natalia even has a record free dive without fins to 71-meters (223 feet) set this past May in Dahab, Egypt.

Natalia diving deep.
Natalia diving deep.

Natalia’s other world records include:

  • Holding her breath underwater for 9 minutes and 2 seconds – Static Apnea World Record
  • Swimming 237 meters (778 feet) without breathing with a monofin – Dynamic World Record
  • Swimming breaststroke for 182 meters (600 feet) with no fins – Dynamic No Fins World Record
  • Diving with No Fins to 91 meters (almost 300 feet)
Natalia Molchanova
Natalia Molchanova

Natalia was a competitive swimmer in Russia before stopping competition to raise a family.  20 years later, she picked up free diving and went on to set 41 world records and win 23 world championship titles.

“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.” – Natalia Molchanova said in 2014


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