(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
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
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.