French four-member amputee swimmer Philippe Croizon (R), and his friend swimmer Arnaud Chassery, celebrate after he swam between islands in the icy Bering Strait to cross from America to Asia in the final part of a quest to link all continents. AFP photo
A French swimmer who lacks legs and arms has successfully swum the frigid waters separating Alaska and Russia with the aid of paddle-like prosthetics, expedition representatives said Saturday.
Philippe Croizon, whose limbs were amputated after a 1994 electrical accident at age 26, completed his swim late Friday from Alaska's Little Diomede Island to the Russian maritime border near Big Diomede Island. Croizon's website said the expected direct distance of the swim was to be about 2.5 miles (4 km).
Croizon had intended to swim all the way to the shoreline of Big Diomede, but regional Russian authorities denied him permission to enter the territory, expedition representatives said.
His swim to Russian waters took about an hour and 15 minutes, Marc Gaviard, coordinator for the expedition, said in a telephone interview from Little Diomede.
Croizon uses paddle-like prosthetics to swim, and has completed crossings of the English Channel, the Red Sea and other major waterways. His Bering Strait swim was the last in a series of expeditions across waterways that separate continents, according to Handicap International, the nonprofit organization that helped organize Croizon's Alaska undertaking.
Even though the swim was shorter than originally intended, it turned out to be extremely challenging, Gaviard said.
"Philippe said it was the hardest thing he ever did, even harder than crossing the English Channel," Gaviard said. When he had finished, "He was totally out of energy," Gaviard said.
The water was very cold, about 4 degrees Celsius, or 39 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. "He basically put on a couple of wetsuits instead of just one," Gaviard said.
The water was very choppy, with swells of 6 to 8 feet (1.8-2.4 m), Gaviard said, and heavy fog made navigation difficult for Croizon, his swimming partner and the four vessels escorting them.
"You could see that we were going in a zigzag," Gaviard said
Expedition members used GPS technology to determine when they had reached the maritime border between Alaska and Russia, Gaviard said. After that, Croizon boarded one of the vessels and rode back to Little Diomede, he said.
The expedition members remained on the rocky Alaska island Saturday but planned to fly to Anchorage when weather allowed, Gaviard said.
After that, Croizon plans to travel to London to work as a radio and television commentator during the Paralympics, he said.
Croizon, who was seeking to raise awareness of the abilities of handicapped people, is the second person to swim the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russian territory. In 1987, American long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox accomplished that feat for the first time.