Without limits

Limitless is the film of the moment, you can find it in the suite of the Netflix platform. Beautiful, ugly? True, unreliable? It came out exactly twenty years after the Audrey Mestre accident. Let me give you my opinion, aware of the risk of attracting criticism…

20 years ago

In 2002 I was a young diver. Relatively young in age (much more than now) but above all with diving experience. I had recently become a CMAS instructor and had just returned from my first experience in a diving center on Pantelleria.

I regularly attended the diving club where I had done my entire journey and compared myself with my friends from the club. In those days there was the Internet but there was no Google, there were @mail but there were no social networks. There wasn’t even YouTube. Diving was read in specialized magazines. There was Underwater World, Sub, Aqua and the Diver. The news mostly came from those sources.

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Alberto Balbi

I don’t remember how I learned of the death of Audrey Mestre, or rather Pipin’s wife. Yes, because those were the roaring years of freediving. Those of No Limits, of Sector who probably poured a lot of money into the system. And of the records, repeatedly beaten, by Pipin Ferreras and Umberto Pelizzari. Of Audrey I remember those photos by Alberto Balbi, at the time the most famous Italian photographer in the underwater world. Albert was there. I remember her sitting on the support catamaran, with the Mares yellow wetsuit while she ate a banana. I remember her with that gaze lost in space, with that melancholy veil of sadness. A look that reminded me of Ayrton Senna, sitting in his car, still without a helmet, on the starting grid of the Imola Grand Prix.

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We talked a lot about it at the diving club. I also remember seeing the video of the dive. I remember her fumbling with the sled in a desperate attempt to disengage and escape from those depths. And I remember Alberto Balbi’s TV interview with Sfide. The story of him dismayed by that terrible experience.

Then, as always, I never thought about it again.

The last attempt

I think it was 2010, or so, when, I don’t know how, I received advertising content probably on Amazon. Those things like who bought your product also bought this.

It was a book, written by Carlos Serra, Pipin’s associate and friend. A book written in English, and I believe to date never translated into Italian, which wanted to offer a reconstruction of the record attempt that led to the death of Audrey Mestre. I was intrigued, that episode became a scar on me. And, deciding to make an abnormal effort because I’m not an ace with English, I decided to buy it.

A world opened up for me. Carlos Serra’s version of events left me dumbfounded. Breathless.

Serra, at the time of the tragedy, was the president of the IAFD, the company that at the time certified the No Limits records. He was also a great friend of Pipin. But in this book Serra paints a very dark picture of Pipin. The record holder I remember in the photo of Alberto Balbi who climbs madly from the bottom with the head raised by his now lifeless wife is depicted as a horrible man. An arrogant, manipulative and vengeful macho. And she, poor Audrey as a victim of him. She, with two suicide attempts behind her, trying to free herself from the emotional trap she had gotten herself into.

Of the idea of ​​the love story between Pipin and Audrey, destroyed by the mocking and cursed fate, nothing remained after reading this book.

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Pipin e Audrey

And for a long time, Pipin had become a very bad example for me.

Without limits

Limitless is the film of the moment, you can find it in the suite of the Netflix platform. Beautiful ugly? True, unreliable? It comes out exactly twenty years after the Audrey Mestre accident.

The film is presented as a reconstruction even if, before the final word, there is the usual disclaimer. “Any reference to facts, people, things that actually happened or existed is to be considered purely coincidental.” And it ends with the inscription: “in memory of Audrey Mestre 1974-2002”.

There are some scenes that can’t really be truthful.

Each record attempt narrated takes place within an event called the “world freediving championships”. I don’t know if these championships exist, but I am sure that the No Limits records were special events, outside of any type of competition. There was an athlete trying to beat the previous record. And that’s that.

And then the underwater computer that signals the alarm for too fast ascent to the safety diver who was trying to bring poor Audrey back up. It was 2002, the diver was in a mix and there was no computer capable of providing a dive profile nor at those depths.

But there are also some exciting, adrenaline-pumping scenes. Scenes that glue you to the sofa, the armchair. Scenes from “Without Limits”. They are those of diving, those eternal moments during which a man, a woman, measure themselves in the depths of the sea. Without limits, indeed.

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The reconstructions

But this film, “Without Limits” is the reconstruction of Carlo Serra. Where Pipin, who in the story is French, is an arrogant being, a womanizer and a serial traitor. A great manipulator, with a manic sense of control. A man who projects onto his woman, who is not called Audrey but Roxane, his need to always be the best.

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And then that empty cylinder, the sole cause of a deadly drama. That tank that would be used to inflate the lifting balloon that was supposed to bring her back to the surface. That cylinder that in the film “Without Limits” the superman personally controls. A scene that even sounds like a veiled accusation of murder.

Maybe a little too much.

The live Facebook of the couple Genoni – Balbi

Who better than them to shed some light on this story that is becoming a little too disparaging for Pipin?

Gianluca Genoni set No Limits records and Alberto Balbi was in the Dominican Republic, on the support catamaran for that unfortunate record.

Alberto was with Pipin, Audrey and the whole team for three days. He lived with them, in close contact. Both in breaks and in rehearsals. In those days he did not know the Pipin described in the film “Without Limits”. He had to deal with a very physical man, who loved to be center stage and disrespectful of rules and procedural standards. A champion who has made many records with his rules and habits. And he has translated these rules into Audrey’s enterprises. She simply trusted her husband and his rules.

Surely the organization of this record attempt was lacking, in particular compared to the maniacalness of the organization that Gianluca demanded for his records. Companies that saw the participation of a close-knit team of professionals, an organizational leader, a large team of safety divers and a top-level medical assistance service.

La prima volta, puntata 3, con Gianluca Genoni

What happened

It is 12 October 2002 and Audrey Mestre is preparing to attempt to reach a depth of 171 meters in No Limits. Which at the time meant the world record, for both men and women.

Pipin is in the water, next to his wife. It is him who releases the sled to start the descent towards the abyss. But he realizes that something is not going right when he hears, through the steel cable, that the sled lands on the plate, on the bottom. It’s too hard a landing, as if Audrey hadn’t started inflating the lift balloon early enough to cushion the blow.

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Pipin unhooks Audrey’s sled – Photo credit: Alberto Balbi

Audrey can’t inflate the balloon because the tank is empty. The support diver, the French Pascal Bernabè, intervenes. As soon as he realizes that the attempt is in vain he starts, through the emergency regulator, to manually insert air into the balloon. But, due to the depth and pressure, he can barely get the ball to slowly push Audrey back up. Too slowly.

Audrey goes back, lifted by the lack of force of the ball, up to 120 meters. But she has now been out of breath for almost five minutes and she loses contact with the steel cable ascent, perhaps due to the strong current. Pascal realizes it, reaches her and accompanies her up to the depth of 90 meters, where the second support diver should be. A certain Vicky, Cuban and friend of Pipin. He breathes air.

But Vicky isn’t there and Pascal can’t get back up that fast. He stays with Audrey, doesn’t abandon her.

On the surface, time passes inexorably. Pipin is clamoring for a tank. He gets a tank without a regulator. Finally they deliver him a diving equipment. He goes down quickly, meets Pascal with Audrey in his arms. Pipin takes her with him and climbs like a madman, embracing her. And he resurfaces, almost like an explosion. With the hand reaching up, with Audrey’s head resting on her palm.

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But it’s too late. They transport her on the catamaran, there is no doctor to revive her. Aboard a punt, Audrey is transported to the village and, subsequently, to the infirmary. Where they will not be able to do anything but ascertain her death.

Questions and conclusions

About twenty days after the accident, the IAFD issued a bulletin containing the causes that led to Audrey’s death. They reported a sum of events but there was no mention of the empty cylinder but only a malfunction of the lifting balloon.

No one mentioned Vicky, the backup diver who was not in his place. And nobody knew anything more about him. No one spoke of this misfortune again until Carlos Serra, Pipin’s former friend and associate, decided to write the truth about him.

But here the truths are just too many and no one will ever know which one will be the right one. On his Instagram account, Pipin says that a series of eight episodes will soon be released in which clarity on this dramatic event will finally be clarified. And it will always be produced by Netflix, like Senza Limiti.

Watch the video with Pipin’s statements

We will have a new version of events that Carlos Serra will surely disavow.

No one has ever been investigated for this story, but in the meantime Audrey Mestre has died at just 28 years old.

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La Prima Volta con Gianluca Genoni

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