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Diana Nyad starts fifth attempted swim from Cuba to Florida

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad has set off from Cuba, seeking to become the first person to swim the Florida Strait without a protective shark cage. It's the 64-year-old's fifth attempt, and she says it's also her last.

Florida-raised endurance athlete Diana Nyad on Saturday started an attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. For the fifth time, she will brave often stormy waters inhabited by sharks and jellyfish.

If successful in a roughly 110-mile (177-kilometer) swim, she would become the first person to ever cross the Florida Strait without a shark cage. Australian Susan Maroney managed the crossing with a shark cage in 1997, then aged 22. As well as offering protection, such a cage creates a drafting effect that helps pull the swimmer along. Maroney is currently the only person to have made the crossing.

Nyad, who recently turned 64, set off in a special bathing suit, goggles, mouth-guard, gloves, boots and a swim cap - all designed to offer protection from the jellyfish stings that halted her last attempt in 2012.

"I admit there's an ego rush," Nyad said. "If I - three days from now, four days from now - am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore … I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had."

Nyad said this would be her last attempt at a feat she first tried with the help of a cage in 1978. However, after past failed efforts she had vowed never to return to the shark-infested waters.

Nyad isn't swimming solo. A team of more than 30 people, aboard five yachts and two kayaks, are accompanying her at sea. They generate a faint electrical field around her, designed to keep sharks at bay. They also provide her with food and drink when required.

Nyad said "Thanks, my Cuban friends" in Spanish before starting her swim, she has said she hopes to help improve long-frosty US-Cuban ties by succeeding.

msh/ch (AFP, AP)