Local man going for scuba diving world record Saturday

Nick Shepherd • Jul 26, 2013 at 12:01 AM

Editor's note: This story ran in May. Jerry Hall goes for the world record this Saturday. Check tomorrow's newspaper for details on preparations being made before the world record attempt and check Sunday's paper for a story on Hall taking to the water for the dive.

There are 432,000 seconds in five days and one local man is going to spend every single one of them under water.

Jerry Hall, a chemical operator for Eastman, is going to attempt to break a world record for the longest scuba dive this summer. He previously set the record in 2004 by spending 120 hours and one minute in the water. The record stood until 2011, when a Florida man broke it at 120 hours and 14 minutes.

Hall is more worried about the mental part than the physical part of being underwater that long.

“It becomes more of a mental game through the whole thing,” Hall said. “Physically, I’ve got to be in good enough physical shape that I don’t worry about the physical aspect of it. The main thing is not to dwell on it because where the mind goes the body will follow.”

Hall will call a 12-by-12 platform at the bottom of South Holston Lake home during that week. Filling 7,200 minutes can be a tad bit difficult submerged beneath the water. So Hall and his team are bringing time fillers.

An underwater bike is being donated by the Bristol YMCA so he can get some exercise. Hall and another diver will be able to play checkers on checkerboards. Lubell Labs, a company based in Ohio, is letting Hall and his team use an underwater speaker to play music. He can take a swim as long as he stays underwater, and will even be helping some people get their diving certificates, because he is a master diver after all. A member of the Kingsport City Fire Department is also building a box so he can take a television with him when he lives with the fish.

A volunteer crew of 25 divers, two dive captains and 10 to 15 people on land will be assisting Hall during the week to make sure everything runs smoothly.

To see a video of Hall on a training dive, click here.

One of the dive captains is Jim Bean, Emergency Management Agency director for Sullivan County. Bean is in charge of keeping Hall safe for the duration of the attempt.

“As long as we don’t go very deep, he can stay (underwater),” Bean said. “As you go underwater, your body starts absorbing all the bubbles that you are breathing into your tissues. At the depth we’re at, he can stay an unlimited amount of time.”

Hall will be at a depth of about 20 to 30 feet. Divers will be with him constantly throughout the attempt. Most of the divers have a medical background to be able to assist him if a situation comes up.

The attempt will take a toll on him physically. He will lose 20 to 25 pounds during the five-day stretch. During his first attempt in 2002, his skin shriveled up so badly and put him in so much pain, he thought he did permanent damage to his skin. Since then, Hall and his team have discovered a cream made by Crown Labs in Johnson City that helps a lot. Bean and the other team members stuff new gloves and socks full of the cream before giving them to Hall.

Since the world record is for the longest underwater scuba dive, Hall has to spend every waking moment beneath the water, and every sleeping moment. When he’s ready he will put on a full-face diving mask, curl up next to some oxygen tanks and go to sleep. While he is sleeping, team members will be watching the bubbles to make sure they occur in regular intervals. If he moves in any way while he is sleeping, the divers use their fingers and put the “okay” sign under his mask.

“So when I open my eyes, I see that and I’m like, ‘Okay, remember you’re still underwater so don’t get up and walk to the bathroom,’” Hall said. “You know, when you first wake up, you’re still a little disoriented, even in your own home.”

Hall will be wearing a weighted vest to help keep him underwater. He will have three tanks on the underwater platform, a primary tank, secondary tank and an emergency tank. The tanks contain around 80 cubic feet of air, which will give him around 3 to 4 hours of breathing time. When the primary tank gets low, Hall will hold his breath and switch to the secondary tank while a diver switches out the low tank for a full one on the surface. The team will have around 100 oxygen tanks that can be switched plus six tanks that can be used to fill the smaller tanks.

Another thing he will have to do underwater is eat. He will eat soup put in a squeeze bottle, candy bars and other small items. He has to lift up his mask, put the food in and blow the excess lake water back out of his mouth. When he does, the fish usually grab the crumbs.

He is able to brush his teeth, drink Powerades and use the bathroom, although just “number one.” The activity of his body trying to keep warm and a low caloric intake prevent “number two.” When he does use the bathroom, it has to be captured in a bag because the Tennessee Valley Authority has certain rules for disposing of human body waste.

Hall plans to dive on July 27.

The team doesn’t want to set a definitive date due to changing weather patterns.

Hall said he finds being underwater peaceful and something he really enjoys, but he is doing more than breaking a world record. He also wants to raise money for charity. When he set the record in 2004, he also raised $4,000 for the Ronald McDonald house.

“This time we have teamed up with the Speedway Children’s charities, the Bristol chapter,” Hall said. “This is not just a dive for us to go get a record and be done with it. ... It’s not just some people going out and sitting in the water, to me that would be a little bit selfish.”

For more information, see Hall’s website at www.jerryhallworldrecorddive.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/jerryhallworldrecorddive.

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