71-year-old Jim Wigginton becomes the oldest person to reach Challenger Deep

By Kristen Stephenson

Among the many talented adventurers who are being recognized today for diving into the "Eastern Pool" of the Challenger Deep is American Jim Wigginton, a fearless explorer who thrives on achieving extreme records.  

For those who may not know, the Challenger Deep is considered the world’s deepest point on Earth and is located in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. Only a handful of individuals in the world have had the training and capacity to trek nearly seven miles beneath sea level, which now includes record holder Jim.  


Jim’s experience diving to these depths was a feat made possible with the help of fellow Guinness World Records title holder Victor Vescovo, who piloted the deep submergence vehicle, Limiting Factor, which led them down to the bottom of ocean.  

They delved 10,934 m (35,872 ft), plus or minus 3 m (at 1-sigma, or 67% certainty) or 6 m (at 2-sigma, or 95% certainty), as confirmed by an independent analysis of the data by expert Hydrographers.

Once at the bottom, Jim earned a record for being the world’s oldest person to reach the Challenger Deep at 71 years 124 days.  

While the Michigan native has witnessed a fair amount in his lifetime, he mentioned nothing compared to seeing what lingers at the deepest part of the ocean.  

"We went down and came up comparatively slowly, at roughly 4 hours, or less, each way. Not a lot of wildlife beyond the first mile, and the bottom looked like another planet."

Jim is no stranger to record-breaking, and in fact, his previous record attempt is what inspired him to take the plunge to Challenger Deep.  

Just last year, he achieved the world’s  highest tandem parachute jump (skydive), when he and  Arkadiusz Majewski (Poland), leapt from a height of 11,405 m (37,417 ft) in Antarctica, feeling over seven miles of blistering cold winds on the way down.  


At the attempt, a crew member told Jim about the Challenger Deep, and immediately he became inspired.  

"I thought it would be cool and newsworthy for my wife’s Thyroid Cancer Fund, to be the only person to jump from 7 miles high and nearly 7 miles deep." 

Many wonder why Jim has achieved so many stunts and incredible feats in his lifetime, and his answer is always for his late wife Nancy.  

Sadly, she passed in 2013 from thyroid cancer, and since then Jim has established the Punya Thyroid Cancer Research Foundation to help raise money for this cause.  

"I set up a foundation in her name, with the University of Michigan to become the leading thyroid cancer treatment and research center in the world," Jim explained. 

"All of my extreme adventures and challenges have been to try to attract media attention to drive awareness and funding for this."

He continues to plan out his future with the intentions of bringing awareness to the cause that’s closest to his heart.  

Jim says that each of his extreme activities, whether that be skydiving or submerging into uncharted waters, teaches him something new. 

"Skydiving is high adrenaline, while the submersible dive was the opposite. However, the world record altitude jump was also from a confined space, as was the submarine in Challenger Deep, and both were cold temperatures at their extreme distances."

"At points during the skydive, it registered 75 F below zero. Both had oxygen issues to deal with, but in substantially different ways."


Now, Jim and the other members who were part of the historic Challenger Deep expedition (Victor Vescovo and Dr. Kathy Sullivan), will live on in the record books for their impressive journeys and accomplishments.  

Read more about the fantastic Challenger Deep achievements of Victor Vescovo and Dr. Kathy Sullivan