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Director on quest to film planet's final frontier

FEWER people have reached the deepest point in the world's oceans than have walked on the Moon. Now that rare band is to be joined by a member of the Hollywood A-list.

James Cameron, the director behind 'Titanic' and 'Avatar', is heading to the sea floor armed with 3D cameras and lights that will capture the moment for cinemagoers.

He set out from the Pacific island of Guam for the Mariana Trench, and is descending more than seven miles down in a lime green reinforced submersible, the first solo mission to the lowest point on Earth.

The Deepsea Challenger weighs 11 tonnes and was built amid great secrecy in Australia over the last eight years. During the nine-hour mission, the 6ft 2in film-maker is having to stand hunched, barely able to move in a 3ft-wide space, controlling movements with a joystick. The expedition was under way last night, although 57-year-old Mr Cameron is out of communication.

The director said: "The deep trenches are the last unexplored frontier on our planet, with scientific riches enough to fill a hundred years of exploration."

Some have accused him of ego-driven grandstanding. After all, there will be little to see in the depths. But Cameron says there will be a valuable scientific element to his extreme dive.

He is collecting animals, rocks, water and sediment using a robotic arm. The rocks will be analysed by geologists seeking to understand the movement of tectonic plates and bacteria will be studied by scientists seeking to discover how life survives in extreme conditions.

Before setting out, he said: "We want to push the envelope not only of scientific knowledge but also of engineering."

The Mariana Trench is located off the Philippines and reaches its maximum depth at a point called Challenger Deep.

The only mission there in 1960, saw Jacques Piccard, a Swiss oceanographer, and Don Walsh of the US navy, reach the bottom. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent