James Cameron's Near-Drowning on Film Set

Behind the scenes, danger lurks in deep waters

by Zain ul Abedin
James Cameron's Near-Drowning on Film Set
© Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment

Acclaimed filmmaker James Cameron shared a chilling account of a near-death experience he faced on the set of one of his iconic films, nearly a decade before directing the global blockbuster, "Titanic."

According to a report by Variety, during an appearance at the ongoing Beyond Fest film festival in Los Angeles, the 69-year-old titan of the film industry recollected the harrowing incident from the set of his 1989 landmark movie, "The Abyss."

Set against the backdrop of a rescue mission after an American submarine sinks in the Caribbean, "The Abyss" required intensive underwater scenes. The filming process, intricate and demanding, necessitated the actors and crew members to immerse themselves into real scuba-diving.

Despite being an adept diver, Cameron explained how he found himself in peril during one of these deep dives. Adorned with heavy weights around his feet and waist for better underwater maneuverability, Cameron would dive about 30 feet deep along with his crew.

"Angels" Overlook Cameron's Distress

The movie's underwater sequences were closely monitored by "angels" - a team of safety divers who were assigned to keep the actors safe. “Each 'angel' was assigned to one or two of the actors, ensuring they were in sight throughout,” Cameron elucidated. Tragically, their attention missed Cameron during one critical moment.

The gravity of the situation became evident when Cameron's oxygen tank began to deplete. Despite his attempts to alert his colleagues using an underwater communication system, his warnings went unnoticed.

Describing the heart-stopping moment he ran out of air, Cameron narrated how, in a desperate bid to get to the surface, he faced another challenge: a safety diver restraining him from ascending rapidly due to the risks of lung over-expansion - a well-known hazard in scuba diving.

Faced with the critical situation and the inability to communicate verbally, Cameron took a drastic step. “I had no option. I punched him [the safety diver] and made my way to the surface, ensuring my survival,” he recollected.

This jaw-dropping revelation underscores the immense risks filmmakers often take to translate their vision onto the silver screen.

James Cameron