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DIVER READY TO PLUNGE FOR A RECORD

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A Cuban-born free diver made last-minute preparations Saturday to take a 417-foot plunge underwater on a single breath of air, without scuba or other breathing apparatus.

If Francisco "Pipin" Ferreras is successful in his planned dive Sunday, he will beat the existing free diving world record mark of 126 meters (413.39 feet), which he set July 30 at the Blue Olympics in Syracuse, Italy.As a child growing up in Mantansas, Cuba, Ferreras gained the experience necessary to swim deep, motivated by a desire to spear large fish.

"The deeper you go, the more chances you have to catch bigger fish," the 32-year-old Ferreras said. "When I was 12 years old, I was going down to 125 feet."

Ferreras began his professional free diving career in 1987, after working with Cuban and Russian naval researchers who studied changes to his body during deep dives and a subsequent stint as a dive instructor at a Cuban resort.

Italian journalists who traveled to Cuba to chronicle Ferreras' efforts persuaded him to venture to Italy for a free diving competition.

In Italy, a former world champion introduced Ferreras to executives of Mares, a dive equipment company, who agreed to sponsor the Cuban diver.

Now more than seven years later, Ferreras has set 15 records in three categories of free diving. But it is the "variable ballast, no limits" class that draws the most attention because of the public's fascination with plunges deeper than 400 feet.

The category permits the diver to use a heavy weight to assist in descent and an inflatable balloon-like float to return to the surface.

On Sunday if conditions are right, Ferreras will enter the water near the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary sometime after noon. A 50-pound underwater sled, which slides on a 500-foot steel cable anchored to the ocean's bottom, will carry Ferreras at least 1 meter (39.37 inches) deeper than his record-breaking descent in July.

For the past six weeks Ferreras has been in training, executing at least 20 dives at or below 400 feet.

He said that before he dives he puts himself in a deep trance. "I pull my soul out of my body and get my brain tight with my heart."