Swiss ocean explorer turns 80

Keystone Archive

Jacques Piccard, the first man to descend to the deepest point of the ocean, says he remains as committed as ever to preserving the world's lakes and seas.

This content was published on July 28, 2002 minutes

Part of a dynasty famed for numerous record-breaking feats, Piccard shows no sign of slowing down as he celebrates his 80th birthday. And he continues to work at his Centre for the Protection of the Sea and Lakes in Lausanne.

"There are still many things I wish to do before I pass on to the other side. I have various projects and I hope to be able to accomplish at least one or two or them," he told swissinfo.

Piccard currently runs a programme that takes children from his home canton of Vaud to the bottom of Lake Geneva to educate them about issues such as pollution.

He says he also intends to continue his mission to inform the world of the grave dangers facing the globe's water resources.

Passion for water

Born in Brussels, Piccard entered the record books in 1960 when he and the American, Donald Walsh, descended to the deepest point on Earth - the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

He says the 10,916-metre dive in the bathyscaphe, a submarine built to withstand the immense pressures at the ocean floor, was one of his greatest achievements.

"It was a real demonstration of the capacity of the bathyscaphe [named Trieste] which was invented by my father, Auguste Piccard."

His earlier 1,000m dive off the island of Capri in 1953 also ranks as one of the greatest moments of his adventure-filled life. "It was the first time that we had been on the bottom of the ocean - I was glad to do this with my father."


As Piccard recalls his great dives to the ocean depths, he constantly refers to the accomplishments of his father and grandfather. He says their work inspired him as well as providing the technical know-how for some his own ideas.

"We have many scientists in the family," boasts Piccard. "The first was my grandfather, Jules Piccard, who taught at the University of Basel. He installed the first telephone in the city around 1880 or so.

"Then my father, Auguste Piccard, made the first flight in the stratosphere in a balloon in 1931 - around 17,000 metres in the air."

During his flight, Piccard senior studied the little-known phenomenon of cosmic haze and also demonstrated that man could survive at very high altitude when in a pressurised cabin.

"My father also developed the bathyscaphe which was a model for future generations of submarines," he says.

Family pride

Jacques Piccard also beams when he talks about the latest member of the family to make it into the record books.

"My son Bertrand made the first non-stop flight in a balloon around the world, building on the information Auguste gleaned from his stratospheric flight some 68 years before."

To celebrate his birthday, Piccard will host a small reception with his family and a few friends in his home town of Lausanne.

"I have three children and nine grandchildren. I doubt they will put 80 candles on my cake but there will at least be a few to symbolise my age!" he laughs.

By passing on his love of water, he hopes his passion of oceans and lakes will be kept alive. "Some of the children told me that they would like to do what I am doing when they are older."

by Samantha Tonkin

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