MIAMI, FL – World-famous free diver Francisco “Pipin” Ferreras pursued a record few could comprehend. In that pursuit, he lost what was most precious to him.
His wife, Audrey Mestre, also a diver, drowned in 2002 as she attempted to break a free diving record of 561 feet. She was 28 at the time and authorities in the Dominican Republic, where she attempted the dive, ruled her death an accident. Yet, despite the ruling, many in the diving community blamed Ferreras, and her death was surrounded in controversy.
Now more than ten years later, the record-setting free diver has announced his comeback.
In 2014, Ferrera, who came to the U.S. from Cuba several decades ago, will attempt to break the “no-limits” world record of diving 702 feet, which he says will be in honor of his late wife and his last dive before retiring.
“I really admire people who fall down and always get back up. Those are my winners and everybody has a chance to be happy even if you make mistakes,” Ferreras, now 51, told NBC Latino. “Everybody deserves a second chance.”
No-limits free diving is a dive that only takes a few minutes, depending on the pre-determined depth. The diver takes a breath, rides down a weighted-cable, reaches the desired depth and inflates a lift bag that quickly brings them back to the surface. In Mestre’s case, her lift bag did not properly inflate.
During the last couple of years Ferreras said he was “lost,” avoided any kind of media and instead, “partied from Monday to Monday.”
“I was in denial and I lost everything that I had. I sold my buildings, my businesses, everything,” he said during an interview in his new Miami office. “The problem is that it gets to a point where you understand that this wasn’t the mission that I came to life for. My mission here is to do what I do on my athletic part.”
As part of his preparation for the 2014 dive, Ferreras will travel to Mexico in November to attempt five consecutive breath-hold dives below 100 meters (328 feet) – in 30 minutes or less.
“This was the kind of drive that Audrey and I would visualize. We wanted to do it,” Ferreras said. “I am not afraid.”
Ferreras said the consecutive dives in Mexico, which have never been done before, are to help him understand what his body will need in order to break the record in the 2014 dive. A medical team will accompany him to gather research and study what the human body can do.
“We want to get as much information as we could get out of this dive,” the Cuban-American diver said. “The information that we are going to get, nobody has it– there is nobody in the world that has it.”
If Ferreras is not able to complete the record in 2014 or suffers a blackout during the dive –blackouts disqualify the record– he vows to continue trying.
And ten years after Mestre’s death, Ferreras says he has learned how to live without her, though it has taken time.
“I’m living with that, I learned how to live with that,” Ferreras said. “I don’t regret anything that I did all these years that I didn’t want to work and that I disappeared.”
Ferreras was accused of negligence during Mestre’s death and criticized by some of his closest friends, including his former business partner. He has yet to respond to the critics.
“Why should I have to explain to anybody? I had the most beautiful time in my life, I had the most beautiful love and now I got it back again,” Ferreras said. He recently remarried Nina Melo, 22, a South Beach model. “Why do I have to explain this?”
The night before Mestre’s fateful dive, Ferreras said he planned to be one of the safety divers at the bottom of the ocean, but he says he followed suggestions that he stay on the boat to congratulate his wife on her way up.
“And that is the only thing that I really, really regret. If I would have been down there as a safety diver, she would be here now,” he said.
Ferreras said he is not diving to be seen as a role model or an example. Instead, he hopes to do it for the knowledge and the scientific research.
Everything is set for his future dives, including all the necessary safety measures.
Ferreras has spoken to the Mexican authorities and he is arranging for his dives to be broadcast live. He is negotiating with Televisa, Discovery Channel and other networks that have interest in his dives.
According to Ferreras, James Cameron, who is working on a movie based on Ferreras and Mestre, will also be present during the dives.
“In the ocean you find the peace that you cannot find anywhere else,” Ferreras said. “And every time we go there, she [Mestre] is always with us.”