I have been around diving for thirty-five years now and there are many pioneers in diving that I have met. The latest living legend that I met while lecturing out on the Russian research vessel Akademik Keldysh over the Titanic wreck site is Navy Captain Don Walsh USN-Ret. Captain Walsh is the leading United States naval expert on submersibles and was the head of their undersea submersible program for many years. Although this would be considered quite an accomplishment, Don is most famous for another wonderful achievement.
As a young lieutenant, Don Walsh was a member of the elite US submersible team that started the exploration of the deep ocean floor. When the revolutionary submersible Trieste became available to the US Navy, this elite squad of naval professionals were quick to seize the opportunity. On January 23, 1960, Don and French submersible pioneer Jacques Picard journeyed to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean's Marianas Trench. At 37,800 feet, the Challenger Deep is the deepest spot known in all the oceans. No one has been back since and this feat will never be broken. For this remarkable accomplishment, Don graced the cover of every news magazine throughout the world and was awarded a presidential medal by President Eisenhower.
Exploration of the deep oceans is still on-going; however, there are only 5 submersibles in the world that can dive deeper than the 12, 600 feet where Titanic resides. With the announced news that Wood's Hole's famous submersible Alvin will be retired, that leaves only the two Russian MIRs, the French Nautile and the Japanese Shinkai as the only submersibles that can do deep ocean exploration-although none of these vessels can make it down as deep as the Trieste did that historic moment in 1960. For that reason, Captain Don Walsh is immortalized as the deepest diver of all-time! As for the Trieste, she can be seen on display at the Washington (DC) Navy Yard.