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Friends in shock over loss of Russian free diver Natalia Molchanova 08 августа 2015, 11:01

Russia's tight-knit free diving community has been left reeling by the tragic disappearance of Natalia Molchanova, who vanished last week during a dive.
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Russia's tight-knit free diving community has been left reeling by the tragic disappearance of Natalia Molchanova, the world's most decorated athlete in the discipline, who vanished last week during a dive, AFP reports.

The 53-year-old Russian sportswoman failed to resurface after a recreational dive without fins to a depth of 30-40 metres (98-130 feet) off the coast of Spain's Formentera island on Sunday, the international diving federation AIDA and her family said in a joint statement. 

"She was one the best people you could come across in a lifetime," said parachutist Olga Rysakova, who is also a free diving enthusiast and a former colleague of Molchanova's. 

"When I heard the news, I didn't understand what I was being told."

Underwater searches for the missing 23-time world champion, who is now presumed dead, were halted earlier this week. AIDA said Molchanova could have been swept away by a strong current.

    Doctor, diver, poet 

Molchanova was a woman of all trades. 

She was a doctor of educational science, the author of numerous free diving training manuals, the founder and president of Russia's free diving federation, and a part-time poet.

She also had the remarkable ability to hold her breath for more than nine minutes underwater.

Molchanova, whose son Alexei was also a renowned diver, was the matriarch of the sport in Russia. 

The crow's feet on her suntanned face were the only hint that the she was in her fifties.  

The doctor of Russia's free diving team, Evgeny Butov, told AFP that Molchanova was in fantastic shape and that her disappearance is unlikely to be linked to health issues, although divers have been known to lose consciousness in deep waters.

She was in good enough health to be "sent to space or deep down in the sea," he said.

   'Zen competitor' 

Friends who competed alongside Molchanova said they admired her relaxed approach to competition, her humility and her selflessness.

"She was a wonderful friend, an excellent athlete, a splendid coach, a caring mother, a wonderful teacher," Butov said, sighing.  

Andrei Tyutrin, with whom Molchanova studied the science of free diving, attributed her sporting prowess to her mental strength, which flourished in the depths of the ocean.

"Natalia was in an altered state of consciousness during competitions. She was in a sort of trance," Tyutrin said. "She was a zen competitor. Competition was a secondary concern. For her, a record was just another record."

Molchanova was still breaking records in her fifties. In May, five days after turning 53, Molchanova dove 71 meters without fins off the coast of Dahab, Egypt, setting another yet another world record.

"She said she was trying to show women her age that life is not over at 50," Tyutrin said.

In poems published on her website Molchanova herself captured the thrill she felt as she would head down into the silent depths of the ocean.  

"When I plunge into the water, my soul becomes free," she wrote in 2012. 

"When I dive from the rocks, this is where my soul finds its pier."   

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