Underwater search ends for free diver Natalia Molchanova off Spain

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MADRID -- Spain's rescue services called off their underwater search for missing free-diving great Natalia Molchanova on Wednesday after spending more than two days looking for her off the Balearic Islands.

The county's maritime rescue service and the police specialist underwater team both said they were limiting their operations to monitoring the Mediterranean Sea surface for any trace of the 53-year-old Russian.

AIDA, the international diving federation, said in a statement that Molchanova was diving Sunday without fins at a depth of 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) off the coast of Formentera when she failed to resurface.

The alert was raised after 5 p.m. Sunday, and a specialist police underwater unit with five divers was deployed from the neighboring island of Ibiza within minutes. A helicopter and a maritime rescue vessel were scrambled, and all shipping in the area was alerted. The search continued until dusk Tuesday.

Maritime rescue coordinator Miguel Chicon said the operation was "very complicated" because Molchanova could have become trapped by weights she was wearing at the time of the dive.

A remote-controlled submersible robot hired by her family would continue an underwater search, police said.

Molchanova ranks among the greatest free divers, having set 41 world records, and earning 22 gold medals at world championships.