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By Monty Halls
PUBLISHED: 17:31 EST, 15 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:44 EST, 15 November 2013
The sea covers 71 per cent of our planet and has an average depth of 2.5 miles, with a deepest point of almost seven miles. Light only penetrates the first 300ft or so – beyond this it’s pitch black, and only a tiny fraction of it has been explored.
It seems to me that the last great enigmas on our planet are covered in water, and that to seek real mystery in the modern world we shouldn’t travel upwards or sideways, we must travel down.
So that’s what I did. Earlier this year I put together a team of five specialist explorers – a deep-sea cameraman, a caving specialist, a wreck specialist, and an expert in diving technology as well as myself, a marine biologist – and together we undertook four separate diving expeditions in an attempt to uncover the real stories behind some of the world’s most baffling underwater mysteries.
The result is a series of fascinating films soon to air on Channel 5 following our adventures...
Monty Halls on the dangerous dives he undertook to try and solve the world's most
The Kaiser’s Lost Gold
In 1915, as the German Colonial Army retreated across Namibia, southern Africa, with the advancing British in hot pursuit, they stopped at a sinkhole that was thought at the time to be bottomless.
Known to the local bushmen as ‘The Horrific’, Lake Otjikoto is a perfectly circular pit, hundreds of feet across, filled with fresh water. With surrender imminent, the Germans threw all their cannons, ammunition and rifles into the lake, along with – according to eye-witness testimony – a safe containing gold that would today be worth £25 million.
There is no record of that safe ever being recovered, though there are several accounts of it being thrown in, and we were keen – very keen indeed! – to find it.
The lake is deep, dark, silty and very remote, so this for us represented the biggest challenge of the series. We dived intensively over seven days, and on the lake floor we found the equivalent of a military museum, the ghostly remnants of a vanquished army that had lain silent in the gloom for almost 100 years.
With one dive remaining, all the research and hard work of the previous week pointed to one deep area of the lake floor. This was the only possible location for the safe. With only minutes left, the team headed deep into the gloom to search this area – an unexplored piece of Africa that might just hold immeasurable wealth...
Japan’s Lost Atlantis
At the western edge of the Japanese archipelago lies the tiny island of Yonaguni, a lump of rock trembling on the edge of a tectonic plate. In the late 80s, a local diver was looking for hammerhead sharks off the tip of the island when he came across what appeared to be an underwater temple with staircase-like terraces, flat sides and sharp corners.
The discovery shook the world of archaeology. Was it a sign of a lost civilisation pre-dating all previous records, or simply an unbelievable natural rock formation?
The underwater ruins at Yonaguni
Such sites ignite tremendous passion and debate, and we wanted to answer the big question about whether the ruins were man-made or not. If they were, they’ll rank as one of the most significant early architectural structures on the planet.
We consulted experts from Japan and America in a fascinating investigation that was the equivalent of dusting for the fingerprints of our ancestors on a site that had been underwater for thousands of years.
All five of us have been diving for decades, yet we were split as to the origins of the structure. Personally I felt it was a natural structure modified by man, others felt it was entirely natural, and one team member was convinced it was entirely man-made. Even though the structure has been scoured by thousands of years of ocean currents, we couldn’t shake the feeling that here lies something that’s been shaped by an ancient, lost people – indeed an Atlantis off Yonaguni’s wild shores.
The Ghost Ship of Thunder Bay
Lying in 200ft of water in Lake Huron in the far northern US is a wreck that’s one of the most mysterious on earth. The Cornelia B Windiate sank on 27 November 1875, lost to a violent storm. And yet she sits on the lake floor perfectly preserved, undamaged, and no trace of her crew has ever been found.
This is a mystery to rank with the Marie Celeste, a wreck that has baffled the world of marine archaeology for years.
The big challenge the team faced here was the depth and the cold. The water was only 3°C, enough to kill within minutes without the right equipment. As the dives were so deep, we had to spend up to two hours underwater, much of it motionless as we slowly ascended to avoid the bends. About halfway through each dive we couldn’t feel our fingers, which made working the cameras, and the life-support systems within our dive gear, fairly tricky.
I’d say of all the mysteries we investigated, this was the one where we felt we really unearthed the truth. The reality is more meteorology than myth, an extraordinary tale of terror in the face of conditions that defy belief.
The Curse of Egypt’s Blue Hole
The Blue Hole at Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula is one of the most popular dive sites in the world. It’s also one of the most deadly, having killed at least 40 divers, and possibly up to 100. It’s a very accessible site – just a few metres from cafes and shops – and yet scores of divers over the years have stepped off the shore and never come back. There’s even a graveyard to the lost divers at the entry point – a sobering sight as you kit up.
Why has this vast, beautiful cavern killed so many? We investigated local legends that talked of the curse of a Bedouin princess who had committed suicide in the hole. She is said to drift through the gloom and lure young men to their deaths. Obviously the curse was a myth, but it plays on your mind as you fin through the heart of this massive blue space.
So did we solve the riddle of the Blue Hole? The answer is an emphatic yes, and is related more to simple and deadly physics than to myth. This eerie sapphire void will continue to trick the foolhardy and the reckless who try to push too deep too soon.
Monty Halls And The Kaiser’s Gold, 25 November, Channel 5.