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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Jacques Mayol, 74, legendary free diver dies

Advertiser News Services

Jacques Mayol, the legendary free diver whose feats were chronicled in director Luc Besson's 1988 film "The Big Blue," has died of an apparent suicide. He was 74.

Mayol was found dead Sunday in his villa on the Italian island of Elba, and local police said he had died Saturday of suicide.

Friends said he suffered from depression.

Born in China to French parents, Mayol spent 13 years in Asia. He used Oriental meditation techniques and yoga to slow his heart rate and oxygen consumption when diving.

He set a world record in 1983, at 56, by diving 347 feet with a single breath. That dive was officially described as a medical experiment.

In his younger years, Mayol consistently won European contests among free or breath-hold divers, who use no oxygen tanks.

The contests, in which the divers clung to weighted, falling sleds and were judged solely on depth attained, were stopped after several participants died.

Mayol set his first world record in 1966 by diving 197 feet off the coast of Miami, and 10 years later became the first free diver to plunge below 330 feet.

Although free diving is popular in Europe, fewer than 3,000 people are estimated to practice the sport in the United States, mostly in Florida and Southern California.

Mayol had no known survivors.