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January 22, 2020 15 min
In 1983, what may be the worst diving catastrophe in the history of deep sea oil exploration took place when a pressurized chamber was opened, instantly killing four divers inside. Learn more about your ad-choices at
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Episode Transcription

The text below is machine transcribed.

Hey, I m welcome to the short stuff, I'm Josh, there's chuck, there's JJ. Let's get started one of the most gruesome things that has ever happened in the history of the world, yeah and pprobably. The most gruesome thing that's ever happened on this show yeah. I don't think there's a probably about it and we've talked about some gruesome stuff, but we should probably give a little coa here like the stuff. We're going to talk about is kind of graphic of people dying and being mutilated. So just heads up on that one YEP. I just looked at the pick. Thank you yes, any time. I can't believe you hadn't so far yeah.

I avoided it so until you say that full color one is that the one you looked at just ow you're talking about the tray of yes, okay, yeah, all right. So so everyone knows what weare talking about there was and still is. It sounds like a drilling rig called the Byford Dolphin.

Now it looks like it's contracted out by BP, I think so and in November, on November fifth, one thousand nine hundred and eighty three there was in the North Sea a very horrific accident.

An explosive decompression accident that occurred on the byperdolphin are not on the byphodolphin but but very far under the sea.

No, no! It was on the byfor dolphin, but does that mean? I thought this happened below deck? Let me take this. Let me take this you'r ready all right good night, so the whole thing the whole thing centers around saturation, diving yeah. I get it sure I get okay, okay, so wel. Let's explain to the the peeps at home. It saturation diving is then okay, I means you can live down there, basically in work yeah so like. If you're working on the biphor dolphin, you could be drilling into.

You know thousands of feet of a bedrock under the sea to get to whatever gas or oil you're after and so you might be working hundreds and hundreds of feet down every day, which means that when you come back up as if you listen to our cave, diving episode, you got Ta decompress and, if you're going to decompress that takes time.

So that means that you know it could take hours and hours every day after your shift to decompress before you can finally come up to the surface. So since that's just so ridiculously inefficient, they've come up with this thing called saturation diving, which kind of gets around decompressing every day. Yeah plus you got to keep thim on the clock. You know why you're decompressing, you got to pay for the decompressing yeah all right. So the way I understand it is they, like you, said it's more efficient to stay down there and work which they do, but they don't live down there necessarily like in the abyss right right. They come back up to the ship, but the whole journey from sefloor to ship is pressurized at the same pressure. Is that right, it is and then once they get to the ship, they have to live and stay in these pressurized environments so that they don't have to decompress every day so they're working down on the seafloor and then they're living on the ship and then they're traveling between the two in a pressurized diving bell.

But the the point is everywhere: they are for weeks on end during their shift or their their stint or hitch. That's what they call it: Their Hitch of working, the seafloor theyre living in this pressurized environment, whether it's on the ship in the diming bell or down on the seafloor. It's all pressurized to the the atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure of the worksite down on the seafloor. This makes a lot more sense. Now, yeah, I was under the impression it was like the abyss right and they all just live down there and played cards and made pithy remarks and complained about the food.

It was a good movie, though it was a great movie, So this does make a lot more sense. So, basically, the hatches of the diving bell and the ship chamber are all lined up and clamped together by these divers that are on the outside dive tenders, yeah dive tenders and that's where it becomes a little bit like a movie. You move from one to one and e make sure everything is super tightly clammed together, obviously because it's all super presturized Yeah Anto, like hook the diving bell up to the the pressure chambers where they like, live and eat and play cards and give pithy remarks to one another right on the ship.

That's all pressurizes! If it's you know at nine atmospheres down on the seafloor, even though outside of those chambers on the ship, it's at one atmosphere, it's at sea level pressure.

I can't just pop out and have a smoke. No, you cannot, you have to stay and what? What is that Gerbil habitat called?

You know, I'm talking about sort of you can put like a bunch of tubing and stuff together and let your Gerbil run around yeah. So this is basically what these divers lived in and it was all pressurized, and so, when you're traveling from you know the seafloor up to the chambers on the ship in this diving bell, and you clamp the diving bell onto the pressurized chamber, you need to make sure that the tunnel that connects the two is pressurized and then you can open up the hatch and then move into the chamber, shut the hatch depressurize that that that little tunnel and then remove the diving bell and you're fine. It's just a lot of extra work and thoughtfulness to live like this for weeks on and for saturation diving, but it means that you only have to decompress once at the end of the several week hitch before you go out into e sea level, atmosphere right and given what's going on. You would think that there is a robost system of fail. Safes right and check marks and hand signals to make sure that everything is hooked up and seal tight. In order to maintain that pressure - and today you be right, but ine thousand nine hundred and eighty three, not necessarily that's right. So we're going to take a break and tell you what happened on November fifth of that year, right after this all right, so here's what happened on number November fit. There was a team of four divers down there working in the FREG gas field in the North Sea.

There were two divers in a bell and that's we talked about we. I think we did a whole podcast on a diving bell. Didn't we yeah we did.

We totally did which is kind of weird to think of but yeah.

I remember because remember that one cook on that ship from Nigeria that went down he managed to like live in like a little air pocket for a couple days yeah. So the diving bell is the chamber that takes people back and forth. It's the taxi, basically right transporting them from the worksite back up to thise, pressurized chambers on the ship.

It had just been cranked up to the surface and they were crawling through this passageway. It's called a trunk to this attached Seal Decompression Chamber, which is where they lived and worked or lived in agte and made basal jokes. Exactly don't forget the gards right, the carts and you got ta complain about the cooking sure, and then there was a chamber, another chamber pretty similar nearby that had two more of the diving team and then each of these chambers, this trunk, the Bell and the chamber, were all completely pressurized and again the system was in place and it had worked pretty well up into this point yeah, but for some reason, on this particular day, H, one of the two dive tenders, one of the divers who were outside in the normal pressure atmosphere outside of this pressurized chamber.

They their job, was to insist in making sure the diving bell was clamped up to the trunk correctly and opening and closing the valves and stuff like that, one of them unclamped the diving bell from the trunk before the the the Hatchhab been shut, yeah closing off the divers in their their quarters, their deep, their pressurized quarters.

This was catastrophic.

It it.

What it did was it introduced the normal one atmosphere of atmospheric pressure into the pressurized dive chambers, which were pressurized to nine atmospheres and an a fraction of a second.

The pressure inside of these things went from an extremely compressed nine atmospheres to an extremely decompressed one atmosphere again in less than a second, and it was, it was again catastrophic - is the only way to put it yeah. This is something that they would take: Nine ten eleven twelve hours to decompress. Usually yes, and it happened, and under a second yeah, I caused an explosion.

A decompression explosion killed all four of these divers and the dive tender immediately m.

They did a followup study of Coure, one housand, nine hundred and eighty eight.

They found that the three of the divers were literally killed instantly and I guess we need to say this right, yeah, so the diver, their bodies ruptured basically the diver closest to the door.

His organ spine and limbs, it said, were ejected and his remains exploded through a narrow gap in that chamber door yeah before this happened so fast, and he was pulled apart so violently that, before that chamber door that he hadn't gotten shut yet could slam shut about half of them shot out in a burst of like blood and Gore through that that narrow opening? As Thi the hatch dove a slamming shut from the pressure yeah, they said that H, they found his liver on the deck of the boat, quote complete as if disected out of the body and quote right, and so they think what happened so, the other three they all died instantly, but the other three their bodies were intact. But what had happened is the ther. Their organs in their blood vessels hid all rupture because the gases that were dissolved in their blood at that moment suddenly just expanded and just burst everything inside of them, but the guy who was pulled apart, exploded so violently, because he was the closest to that th pressure gradient in between one atmosphere and dine atmosphere, and he was he was pulled apart by that pressure. Gradient, like part of him, was a little further away from the door than the rest of him, and that difference was enough to just be pulled apart by the buis explosion. Yeah.

The only thing that I can say that is good about this was that it was so fast yeah.

There was not even a moment of panic of what just happened. Right there was no fear, even much less pain.

It was just you're going back into the chamber and all of a sudden, you wake up sitting on a cloud going.

What just happened? Where did I get this lute yeah?

Basically her heart? U It's a Hart. At least it was that fast that there certainly was no pain involved, but also no fear or anything. It was just lights out right, and so you might think like well wait a minute.

How did this guy even begin to get this clamp open that that allowed the pressurized chamber to depressurized catastrophically? Well, that's what a lot of people said afterwards, and so the Norwedian Oil Directorate and the Regulations Body Nors Veritas basically said this can never happen again.

If you have an old like saturation diving system set up, you have to retro fit it following these new spe. Specifications that make it this impossible, like you, couldn't possibly open a clamp before the trunk has been like depressurized before the hats has been shut. Before all this stuff happens to th it's an actual fail, safe, yeah. The thinking all along was that it was a human error. That's what the report said, fatigue or just you know. Somebody made a mistake, but it seems like years later, some of these relatives of the of the gentlemen that were killed got their hands on a report. That said, it was actually faulty equipment yeah.

So there you go yeah and where did this come from? Who Do we have to think for this?

We got a lot of people to think everybody from history channel to there was a guy on redit actually named Spectra Mero, who did a great job of explaining saturation diving in this particular accident, so got a got a handful of people o thank for this one good stuff, yeah, well terrible stuff, but right, interesting. Nonetheless, yeah there you go check, I think Yeu save us or the last minute.

Well, thanks a lot for joining us.

We hope that you can carry on the rest of the day without shuddering. Good luck in the meantime short stuff is out stuff you should know, is production of ihart radios, hows stuff works for more podcast to my heart radio, because it, the iHeartRadio App Apple Podcasts, are wherever you listen to your favorite shows

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