NEW YORK – Magician David Blaine was pulled from an aquarium by divers Monday nearly two minutes short of his goal of setting a world record for holding his breath underwater.
Blaine was trying to free himself from chains and handcuffs while bidding to break the record of 8 minutes, 58 seconds for holding one's breath underwater. The stunt, following a weeklong endurance challenge underwater, was televised live by ABC.
With Blaine's face contorted in pain and bubbles rising to the surface, divers went in to release him from the chains and pull him out. Blaine held his breath for 7:08.
After being given oxygen, Blaine addressed the large crowd that had gathered around the 8-foot snow globe-like tank on the plaza of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
"I am humbled so much by the support of everyone from New York City and from all over the world," Blaine said. "This was a very difficult week, but you all made it fly by with your strong support and your energy. Thank you so much, everybody. ... I love you all."
After a 100-minute television preamble that showed his training techniques — including holding his breath in a tank of sharks — Blaine had sucked in his last breath before going under. Kirk Krack, his trainer and a diving expert, offered encouragement as Blaine remained nearly still for the first five minutes of his dive.
Then, methodically, he removed two of his handcuffs and was trying to remove chains that held him before the divers came in to save him.
ABC was hoping that curiosity over his stunt would attract viewers during a ratings sweeps month.
Dr. Murat Gunel, who heads Blaine's medical team and is an associate professor of neurosurgery at Yale University School of Medicine, said before the attempt: "He is pushing his body insanely to the limits."
Gunel and other medical experts had been monitoring Blaine's condition 24 hours a day from an adjacent tent filled with medical equipment and machines.
Gunel said the challenge had taken a toll on the magician's body, including liver damage, the sensation of pins and needles in his feet and hands, some loss of sensation elsewhere, and rashes all over his body, which glistened pale white in the tank.
On Sunday, Blaine, 33, wearing a diver's helmet with a two-way communication system, told AP Television News he would "give it my best shot" to complete the feat despite peeling skin, sharp pains in his joints and a severe earache.
Blaine started training in December, with some help from Navy SEALS. He lost 50 pounds so his body would require less oxygen.
As early as the second day of his challenge, Gunel said, there was evidence that Blaine was suffering liver failure; the medical team consulted with medical experts at NASA before stabilizing his condition. Blaine's underwater environment was similar to the weightlessness experienced by astronauts in outer space, he said.
"I told him he needed to get out of the water, and he refused me," Gunel said. "He said he did not want to let the people down."
The doctor said Blaine had agreed to allow researchers at Yale to examine him after the stunt to see what they can learn about how the body responds to an underwater environment.
All day, curious onlookers lined up to walk past the sphere.
Linda Brady, of New York City, brought along a boom box and loudly played Jennifer Lopez's "My Love is All I Have." Blaine appeared to respond by bopping to the beat.
"I just love him," Brady said. "He has a creative mind just like me, and he's crazy just like me."
Another spectator, David Linker, said Blaine symbolized "man's strength to go beyond what normal people can do."
Blaine's previous feats included balancing on a 22-inch circular platform atop a 100-foot pole for 35 hours, being buried alive in a see-through coffin for a week and surviving inside a massive block of ice for 61 hours. All those stunts were performed in New York. In 2003, he fasted for 44 days in a suspended acrylic box over the Thames River in London.