At the time of the incident Chris Lemons was relatively new to saturation diving; it was an exciting time in his life, he was engaged to be married and building a house in the highlands with his fiancée Morga Martin. On this particular rotation he would be working with his mentor Duncan Allcock and the very experienced diver, Dave Yuasa.
When the alarm sounded, Dave and Chris were carrying out routine maintenance on an oil well on the bottom of the North Sea. What they didn’t realise was that the positioning system had failed on their dive support vessel 100 metres above and was now drifting out of control, away from the dive site. Dive Supervisor Craig Frederick
immediately instructed his divers to return to the safety of the bell.
As always Dave and Chris were attached to the bell by their umbilicals — long intertwined cables and hoses that carry breathing gases, hot water to combat the frigid North Sea, power to the divers’ headlamps and communications to the ship. When working, the umbilical is a diver’s lifeline.
As the ship drifted further away from the dive site everything attached to the vessel began being dragged along with it. Everything except for Chris; his umbilical was snagged on the structure he and Dave were working on. As the full weight of the 8,000 tonne ship strained against his lifeline, his umbilical started to stretch.
Seeing what was happening, Dave desperately tried to get back to Chris to try and free him. He nearly made it, but just as the two men came faceto-face they hear a loud tearing noise followed by a deafening bang. Chris’s umbilical had snapped and Dave was dragged backwards, away from Chris and off the structure.
As Dave climbed back to the safety of the bell, Duncan Allcock who was ‘bellman’ on the night was pulling in Chris’s umbilical. As he pulled up the broken, tattered end of the gas hose, Duncan shouted, “I’ve lost my diver, I’ve lost my diver.”
With access to only 5 minutes of back-up gas, the crew knew Chris had little chance of survival. What unfolded next was a frantic rush against the clock to regain the control of the ship and to find Chris at the bottom of the North Sea. It would take over half an hour to get back to the structure, so the team prepared themselves for what they imagined must be a body recovery.
The original participants deliver emotional first-hand accounts of an incident, which has reshaped their lives forever.