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2003 Personal Accounts
The Darwin Awards salutes the spirit portrayed in the following personal accounts, submitted by loyal (and sometimes reluctant) readers. Next Prev Random


Under Pressure
2003 Personal Account

(1998, Texas) I attended a professional diving course at the Ocean Corporation in Houston. At this school, one learns not just standard SCUBA techniques, but also esoteric practices such as saturation diving, underwater welding, decompression procedures, and diving while tethered to a diving bell. The instructors are mostly divers who worked for major oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico.

Diving can be extremely dangerous. Professional diving is second only to a military career for the likelihood of death or injury, despite the presence of safety personnel scouting for safety violations. Even knowledgeable and trained divers can make colossally stupid decisions, and as the following tale illustrates, there isn't always room for a second chance.

First, start with a hook. Not just any old hook, but a large hook attached to an oil rig crane. These cranes are used to lift items heavy items off cargo ship decks. Normally, a crane is equipped with a safety hook with a metal latch that secures the hooked item. Safety hooks are necessary when working offshore, as even light seas can bounce items right off the hook. Very dangerous, particularly to whatever lies beneath the falling mass.

The absence of a safety hook was the first error.

Second, consider a capped oil well. When an oil rig digs a new hole in an oilfield, oil is not necessarily pumped from the hole right away. Sometimes the well is sealed with a reinforced steel cap. Over time, the oil and the sea floor settle and create a vacuum against the cap. The pressure can be small or large; there's no way to tell in advance. So when a cap is pulled, it's standard procedure to make sure there is no one in the water.

Enter our contestant. He was working on a capped oil well.

His job was to attach the crane hook to the cap, which was approximately one hundred feet deep. Down he goes, hooks the cap, up he comes, and out of the water. Simple enough, but the hook is missing its safety latch.

The crane starts pulling -- and whoops! The hook slides off the cap.

So the diver goes back down and hooks the cap again. It's then that he has a bright idea. Just in case the hook slips again, he decides to stay close by, thirty feet up on an underwater rope ladder.

Not vacating the water was the second error.

The diver tells the topside crew to give it a pull. They tell him to come up. He convinces them that he's perfectly safe, and well away from the cap. The folks topside don't want to waste time arguing, so the crane guy goes for it. This time, the crane pulled the cap off the well.

This particular cap was on a sixteen-inch diameter pipe, sized to move a LOT of fluid VERY quickly. It had been capped and settling for several MONTHS. Oh, and did I mention that the diver didn't even secure himself to the ladder with a safety latch? You guessed it. The suction from the pipe sucked the very surprised diver right off the ladder and into the pipe.

But a diver does not fit into a sixteen-inch pipe.

They figure the pressure sucked in one leg, while the other one stuck straight up. The suction was so powerful that events didn't end with his body wedged in that position. The combined forces of suction and water pressure were sufficient to essentially suck him right out of his suit, from the inside out.

The only item recovered was his steel helmet, which was bigger than the pipe, and his tank of emergency air.

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