ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF “60 MINUTES SPORTS”
PREMIERING WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, AT 9 p.m. ET/PT
ONLY ON SHOWTIME®
In his First Interview since the 800-ft. Dive that Caused Brain Damage and Ended his Career, Nitsch Reflects on his Injuries and the Dive that Turned Out to be his Limit
Several signs told him not to try to beat his own 700-ft. free diving record that day. There was technical trouble with the sled that was to take him down to 800 ft., the water was choppy and an ear problem had prevented his training in the critical days before the dive. But Herbert Nitsch, known as “The Deepest Man on Earth” for the 32 world records in free diving he held, tried for yet another and nearly died in the process. After months of rehabilitation, Nitsch tells Bob Simon in the diver’s first interview since the career-ending dive that he knew then he shouldn’t have dived that day. Nitsch’s story, including the first footage of his fateful dive, will be told on the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS, premiering Wed. March 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
Asked by Simon what went wrong, Nitsch replies, “Well, everything that can go wrong. It started way early… even before going to Athens and to Santorini,” he recalls. But there were many people on his support team and a sponsor involved, the media was there – all gathered off the Greek island in the Aegean Sea to witness his record-breaking attempt. He would ride a sled down to 800 feet on one breath of air and shoot back to the surface, going 100 feet further than he’d ever gone before. As he told Simon at the time of the dive, “The pressure of the whole event is a lot bigger than the dive itself. I think the diving is the easy part.”
Nitsch dove anyway. “I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I thought, worst case would be that I won’t make it. I won’t make the dive or abort the dive, not that I’d have the serious consequences I have now,” he tells Simon. He passed out on the way up; it was his worst-case scenario, which he had described to Simon before the dive. Unconscious, he could not exit the speeding sled at the right depth to begin a slower ascent that would prevent the bends, a dangerous condition where nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream can cause serious injuries, including death.
Nitsch suffered multiple strokes and spent months in hospitals undergoing extensive rehabilitation. He walks with a limp now, an almost miraculous recovery considering the damage caused by the strokes. Doctors attribute his promising recovery to his peak physical conditioning. And while it is unlikely he will ever dive that deep again, Nitsch believes he will make a full recovery. “I think so. I’m sure,” he tells Simon.
He spoke to Simon before his near-fatal dive and told him what motivated him to break all those records. “The motivation is to find out where the limit is and to break the limit, you own the limit,” he says. The limit is like a door you approach, he tells Simon. “And all of the sudden, it opens…It’s gone.” Nitsch found his limit 800 feet below the Aegean Sea.