Before Armaid - Diving Story #1

Terry was a deep sea commercial diver in Indonesia for years before he invented Armaid. Here are some of his stories:

I was half way through my 10 year commercial diving career when I got a call to do some deep construction and maintenance work in offshore Malaysia on some oil platforms.  The job was to install pipeline connections to the platform and also cut off some steel vertical pipe that was 48 inches in diameter and had a wall thickness of 2 inches.

The bottom depth of the job was around 280 feet and so we had to breathe a mixture of 95% helium and 5% oxygen in order to keep our wits and mind on the job.  Why?  After approximately 100 feet a diver can start to feel increasingly euphoric due to the effects of breathing nitrogen, the main component of air.  The deeper you go, the more incredibly stoned you get if you’re breathing compressed air.  It’s called ‘Nitrogen Narcosis’ and many an inexperienced diver has met his fate at too deep a depth and made wrong decisions that cost him his life.  So commercial jobs that are deeper than 150 feet eliminates the nitrogen narcosis by breathing a mix of helium and the right amount of oxygen formulated for that work depth.   Huge banks of 20 large gas cylinders each were filled with ‘pre-mix’ gas and at least 15 of these monster racks were stacked on board the barge we were working off of.

This was to be what’s called a ‘bounce’ dive.  The diver wears a helmet that has controls for gas flow and contains ear speakers and a microphone for communications with topside.  The idea is to quickly descend to depth, do what work is possible and then leave bottom.  The diver’s ‘bottom time’ starts when the diver leaves the surface till the time they leave the bottom.  It’s important to know how long the diver spends at depth so the right decompression schedule can be figured out.  The longer the bottom time, the longer the decompression.  Total bottom time for this relatively deep depth would be around 35 minutes. 

The time it took to get to the bottom would depend upon how quickly the diver could equalize the inner pressure of the sinus cavities and ears to the ever increasing pressure during descent.  If you had a clear head with no congestion, you could tell topside to “let her rip!” and the winch driver would drop you like a stone to the bottom.  Remember, you only have about 35 minutes to get to depth, get to the work area, do meaningful work and then leave the bottom.  The sooner you get there, the more work you can get done.

After leaving bottom, the diver then has upwards of 5 hours of total decompression time to prevent getting the bends; those undissolved bubbles in the blood that cause pain, neurological disability and potentially, death.

The diver rises slowly, steadily up to 110 feet for the first water ‘stop’, then continues ascending 10 feet at a time to 40 feet.   As the diver gets closer to the surface, the stop times increase.  The last water stop at 40 feet would take close to an hour.  All those water stops would take upwards of 3 hours total.   After this last stop at 40 feet, the diver would ascend to the surface, take off all his diving gear, quickly strip to his skivvies and jump into a decompression chamber for another 2 hours, breathing pure oxygen through a mask at the pressure equivalent of 40 feet.   The time to get the diver from 40 feet in the water to 40 feet in the chamber should take no longer than 3 minutes.

The diver would be deployed by an “A” frame and winch to go over the side while sitting a cage.   Other than the diver, the cage would have two things inside: 80 feet of coiled umbilical hose and a large pressurized tank of emergency gas for the diver to use if his main supply is cut off.

A note on the diver’s umbilical hose.  The umbilical is comprised of 4 things, all bundled and taped together every 18 inches with duct tape:

1) the breathing gas hose

2) communications wire

3) a pneumofathometer hose that shows topside the diver’s actual depth

4) half-inch polypropelene rope for strength when the deck hands and tenders hand-haul the umbilical up to the surface

It was a night dive, at around 1am so there would be no visibility.   And by the time you get to the bottom, surface light wouldn’t reach that far down in such cloudy water at nearly 300 feet down.  I would have to use the waterproof flashlight taped to the helmet to be able to see just a few inches in front of me.  Holding on tightly to the steel cage, I was lowered over the side and promptly was racing to the bottom and arrived a couple of minutes later.

I uncoiled the 80 feet of umbilical hose outside the cage and followed the guideline that led me to the jobsite deep inside a huge platform to get to the place where I was going to make the cuts using a special cutting tool that burned electrodes into the metal making the cuts.      

I’d been on the job for about 10 minutes when I noticed my gas pressure in my helmet was falling and I couldn’t get a full breath.  I immediately reported to topside, “Diver no gas, diver no gas, going on bail-out, going on bail-out!”

The bail-out tank is a small version of a scuba tank that the diver wears in emergencies in order to give a few more moments of gas if the main supply is cut off.   But at such a deep depth, the tank would only last a minute or two.   I started to leave the jobsite and head back to the cage when I heard the diving supervisor say “I’m switching you over to new supply now!” 

This meant that another large bank of topside gas cylinders all linked together was online for me to breathe off of.   Sure enough, within moments fresh gas was at normal pressure and I could shut off the bail-out bottle and breathe on the umbilical supply again.  I returned to work.  But less than 10 minutes later I felt the gas pressure decline and couldn’t get a full breath. 

“Diver on bail-out, diver on bail-out, returning to the cage!”   

I knew that I’d depleted some of the bail-out gas after the first time and would have even less to make it back to the cage.  I began to quickly make my way along the guide rope, my gas pressure from the bail-out was failing, and made it back to the cage and started shoving the loose hose from the big emergency cylinder into my helmet when the familiar sound of ‘swoosh’ brought new gas to the umbilical line. Saved again!

The dive supervisor’s voice came over the comms, “Diver, get ready to leave bottom, abort dive, abort dive.”   

I was happy to agree to the directive.  Topside and I both had enough of the bullshit, it needed to be sorted out pronto.  Losing gas once was a head-scratcher but losing it twice in the same dive was a heart-stopper. 

“Diver in the cage, ready to leave bottom, up on the diver, up on the diver.”

Sometime during the 12 hour shift change, that occurred at midnight, some of the groggy deck crew forgot to label a couple of used gas banks on deck and had hooked them up to the diving panel that controls gas to the diver. 

You might say, “Terry, couldn’t you simply swam to the surface?”  280 feet deep is a long way to swim up from, especially burdened by your suit, harness, helmet and umbilical hose.  Also because I’d been breathing helium and oxygen, the helium that is now absorbed into my body would have expanded my muscle and lung tissue causing an embolism.  This may have resulted in death by the time I reached the surface.

The next best alternative was to leave bottom and rise up to a depth where the air compressor on deck could produce enough pressure for me to breath.

My best bet was to follow procedure and hope topside would sort it out in time and that I could rise to my water stop safely. And, I’m here to tell the tale.

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