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Honorary Commander meets astronaut and deep-sea divers on trip to Mariana Trench

15 July 2020
A Royal Navy honorary commander was part of an exclusive crew to travel to the deepest part of the ocean.

Hon Cdr Durdana Ansari OBE travelled to the Mariana Trench, in the Pacific Ocean, after being invited along on the expedition by former US Navy Reserves Commander and adventurer Victor Vescovo and mountaineer Vanessa O'Brien.

Aboard the DSSV Pressure Drop, Hon Cdr Ansari presented the Royal Navy White Ensign which was then taken 11,000m below to the seabed of Challenger Deep, also known as the Eastern Pool - the deepest part of the trench.

During her two-and-a-half weeks at sea, in waters north of Guam, Hon Cdr Ansari learnt about the science behind the dives and said she was proud to be able to represent the Royal Navy.

"It was brilliant to be able to present the White Ensign and represent the navy on this expedition," Durdana, a former BBC producer and presenter, said.

"That was one of my finest moments since being made an honorary commander in 2017. I am grateful to lots of people in the Royal Navy for
supporting me, especially the First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin CB, Commodore Gary Sutton OBE and Commodore David Elford OBE."

Hon Cdr Ansari set off on the expedition at the end of May this year, flying to Holland, Japan and then to Guam to meet the rest of the team.

This included Victor, Dr Kathy Sullivan - a former US Navy Captain who was also the first US woman to walk in space, Vanessa - the first woman to be fastest on seven peaks, mountaineer and entrepreneur John Rost, expedition leader Rob McCallum
and other hand-picked team members.

From showing my Royal Navy ID at the airports and ports to being in uniform on DSSV Pressure Drop, I received so much respect and I felt proud.

Hon Cdr Durdana Ansari OBE

They sailed 200 miles from Guam and did three dives using a submersible with Kathy and Vanessa becoming the first and second women to reach the depths of Challenger Deep.

John was on board for the third dive of the trench - named after being discovered by HMS Challenger between 1872 and 1876.

It was during one of these dives, to collect samples, measure water temperature and capture footage of species, that the White Ensign was taken down. In the coming days, Hon Cdr Ansari will be 
presenting the ensign to the First Sea Lord. 

Durdana added: "It was very exciting to be part of this expedition which had lots of firsts. It was the first time a woman had dived to the bottom of Challenger Deep, the first time the Royal Navy has been represented on a trip of this kind and the first time the White Ensign has been that deep. 

"From showing my Royal Navy ID at the airports and ports to being in uniform on DSSV Pressure Drop, I received so much respect and I felt proud.

"Being on board and at the Mariana Trench, knowing you're above the deepest part of the ocean where conditions can get rough, can be intimidating but it was just beautiful, the ocean and myself embraced each other, we became friends.

"Everyone on board, from the scientists to the divers to the chefs sat together and interacted. It was great to see and I even got to cook in the kitchen which was great.

"It truly was an incredible trip. Another great moment was when the submersible touched down on the seabed during the first dive and Victor was speaking. The whole team on the boat could hear him so clearly giving readings of the depth through the wireless. Everyone cheered when he reached the bottom of the trench.

"I learnt so much from Kathy and everyone else. It was a great experience, not only to learn about oceans but also the incredible people I was with. Such people can only be found doing these amazing things like being from the heights of space or the depths of the sea."

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