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  • : Histoires d'un scaphandrier or the Stories of a Commercial Diver
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11 avril 2015 6 11 /04 /avril /2015 08:59
Help! Help! Diver is burning

We are in September 96 a few hours before my working week stops. I’m finishing a little intervention in a French river when suddenly my beeper informs me that I have to call my boss. Shit, that will probably mean that the nice week end I had planned to spend with my lady will be fucked off. Indeed, having found a telephone booth in the nearby village my company informs that they have received a call from a big French company who was actually driving a tunnel in Berlin. They had a problem with the progression of the TMB and were asking our assistance to perform some cutting and welding in the shaft. Having never visited this city, I immediately accepted the offer to go there and proposed to contact two other guys to come with me. The next morning together with my colleagues Jürgen and Jean-Michel, we are on the road to the site where we are expected to start work the same evening. The journey to Berlin was uneventful and at the stroke of 8 pm we were in the engineer’s office ready to hear the nature of our work. He explained us that we had not to work in water but instead in the dry and under pressure in the front part of the tunnel boring machine. This kind of big machine, somewhat identical to that which dug the channel tunnel is pushed into the soil by enormous hydraulic jacks while a large rotating cutting wheel excavates the ground in front of the shield.


Help! Help! Diver is burning

This kind of big machine, somewhat identical to that which dug the channel tunnel is pushed into the soil by enormous hydraulic jacks while a large rotating cutting wheel excavates the ground in front of the shield. The Berlin soil was mostly composed of sand and up to now the tunnel had already progressed over a length of 3 km without problem but since a few hours the machine refused to move. During their investigation, the engineers had discovered that what was blocking the progress of the elements was neither more nor less than a piece of rock. Knowing what was preventing the advancement was one thing but now that piece of rock had to be broken and evacuated. As you can imagine it’s by no way possible to go outside the shaft to do the demolition. No, the only manner to have access to it was to cut a window out of the shaft just above the stone. Doing such a cutting at atmospheric pressure would have presented no difficulty and despite the thick steel wall of the shaft would have been realized in a few hours. But in the present case, the working pressure was 3.2 bar (kg/cm²) which can be compared to a water depth of 32 meters and thereby the risk of fire could be high. Indeed, as every diver knows when the pressure increases, the partial pressure of the oxygen in the ambient air we breathe also increases which has as a consequence to accelerate the combustion of things. Knowing that, you immediately see that the use of a classical burning torch or a Broco torch was not the adequate solution because the supply of oxygen would quickly increase the percentage above 25% and so increase the risk of a deadly flash (such an accident took place in Belgium a few years earlier, causing the instant death of all persons present in the shaft). The steel wall we had to cut was 6 cm thick and to avoid the risks mentioned above I opted to use an arcair gouging torch with carbon rods what in those years was one of the less dangerous ways to work. But even if I used air instead of oxygen there remained a risk of fire and therefore I required that a tender equipped with water lance should be ready to intervene at the slightest alert during the cutting process. Being the team leader, I proposed to do the first shift to start jobs that I estimated would last for approximately 72 hours. Pressurizing took place without problems and once at the required depth my tender and I passed to the other side of the airlock where I had to work.

Help! Help! Diver is burning

The exact position of the cutting had been marked by a previous team and so I could rapidly install my burning gear. The place was quite cramped and therefore I proposed to my German assistant to stand on the small bridge we had just used to pass the sas. I was now ready to start, to avoid burns due to the projection of molten metal I had fully dressed myself with leather clothes. Of course, gouging such a thickness is relatively slow and I need to pass into the kerf many many times to blow the molten steel away. I’m now cutting for about one hour and have reach a point where I need to lay on the bottom to have a better access to the line I have to cut.

Help! Help! Diver is burning

But the bottom is covered with a thick layer of bentonite mud which means that if I lay myself down, I will immediately get soaked through and therefore increases the risk of being electrocuted. What to do? Not difficult: I asked my tender to pass me one of the integral raincoats that is hanging outside the sas. Equipped with it, I can now lie down in the mud and resume my cutting. I was cutting again without a problem for about 10 minute when suddenly I could see that the inside of my welding helmet reflected flames that came from somewhere else than my cut. Strange I thought, so I ceased my cutting, lift my visor and Horror! Saw that my left leg was burning. Immediately I tried to extinguish the flames by tapping them with my leather gloves while that at the same time I was expecting to receive a jet of water from mate. But nothing came. Fucking hell what is that con above me waiting for? While screaming I stood my head and 'Help', saw that there was nobody on the stage. I could now feel that the fire had progressed and had probably consumed a part of my leather pant because all of a sudden, a sharp pain irradiated my knee. Desperately I still continued to tap the flames but without result, my pant continued to burn. As I did not want to completely finish like a living torch, I did the only thing that I had to do. Make a roll, turn myself and plunge my leg in the mud. The effect was immediate, the flame died while that at the same time I received a shower of cold water coming from above me. You stupid bastard, where were you? Why have you not react immediately? My assistant was really confused, he did not know what to say to apologize. What had happened? In fact, he had simply passed into the airlock for a drink at the time where the incident happened. All this would not have happened if he had informed me course I would have stopped to cut for one or two minutes. Anyway it was too late my raincoat left leg had completely melted away and my leather pant had been badly attacked by the flames but was still covering my knee preventing me to see the gravity of my injury. Anyway, the shower had entirely soaked me from feet to head and so no more question to continue to work in these conditions and thus my German informed the surface of the accident via the internal phone. As it could be foreseen the surface at her turn informed us that we had to enter the airlock for decompression. Luckily, our time under pressure was nearly over, only twenty minutes more to go thus I presumed that the client would not complain too much for the lost time. The decompression lasted some 100 minutes, which left me time to undress me and look at my wound. Oh! Yes, not bad at all. I had a nice wide second degree burn. To mitigate the effects of pain and clean the wound, I asked for a few bottles of icy water. During the decompression, my companion was still very sorry about what had happened, but in fact the great part of responsibility was on my side because I should have remembered that a rain suit is by no way a fireproof cloth. The decompression went on without problem and at the exit a doctor was already waiting for me. His diagnosis was pretty harsh because he considered that the injury was serious and he advised me to return to Belgium. I immediately could see that the project manager was a bit upset by this decision because it meant that in this case I would take my two colleagues with me and leave him in a difficult position. So I refused his advice and decided to stay. To avoid infection, the doctor advised me to put a watertight bandage on my knee before every shift and no need to say that I followed his advice to the letter. But despite this, my leg made me suffer because I had a lot of trouble to bend my knee. As expected, the cutting of the window took another 3 days followed by a few hours to hydraulically burst the boulder. Once that first part of the mission completed, we stayed two more days to make some welding work on the TMB teeth and at the end of the week our job was entirely finished.

Help! Help! Diver is burning

Despite the incident, the client was very satisfied with our service because they could now resume their progression and so to thank us he made us discover Berlin by night.



Sometimes we believe to have made a correct JSA that covers every hazard and we forget what is obvious.


Papy One

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4 avril 2015 6 04 /04 /avril /2015 09:10
The salvage of the DN31

Wednesday, December 8, 2010, as usual, the DN31 dredge is busy to level the bottom in front of the Berendrecht lock. In the sluice, the Crystal Topaz tanker prepares to come out of it with the assistance of a pilot. 9:20 pm, the door opens and the tanker set out towards the river.


The salvage of the DN31

For some unknown reason the tanker quickly faces the working boat which due to his towed hoe is unable to move laterally. 9:30 pm collision time. The hull of the dredge is deeply perforated on the port side by the bulb of the Topaz Crystal and under the force of the impact the DN31 capsize instantly.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

Despite the huge gap, the dredge remains floating; apparently the watertight bulkheads are not affected.

The salvage of the DN31

Immediately the alert is launched and help is organized.


The salvage of the DN31

Antwerp firefighters diving rescue team arrive quickly followed by a helicopter equipped with a thermal camera.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

In effect, three men do part of the crew of this ship. Did they fell in the water, or instead remained in the wreck, for the time being, no one knows what they have become. Apparently, no signal is heard on the hull, bad sign. To be sure, a dive has to be made to attempt entering the wheelhouse where maybe an air pocket can exist. On-site, firefighter’s divers are not very motivated to do this dive because in this part of the Scheldt, the current is important and the visibility is zero. Luckily for them, from the beginning of the alert, the BDC assistance is also requested to help the rescuers and at 23:00 a team of their divers is also on-site. Immediately Thierry our most experienced man proposes to do the dive.

The salvage of the DN31

The task is not that simple cause every diver knows that it is not easy to find his way in a wreck that is unknown, while saying in wreckage floating upside down. Mind, our diver, one of the best currently on the market manages despite difficult conditions to enter the room. There, after some research he comes across the body of one of the crew members and bring him back immediately to the surface. Unfortunately, it is already too late; the guy will not be revived. Without losing time Thierry goes back to another compartment from the wreckage where there is still a slim hope of finding the two others sailors, but arriving at the door of it he discovers that she is locked and cannot open it enough to enter. In the water, the tidal current becomes increasingly strong. Diving becomes this dangerous that the team leader decides to interrupt it. Unable to do anything more on the spot, the authorities decide to tow the floating wreckage to one of the docks in order to implement the Security pending the lifting equipment.

The salvage of the DN31

Very quickly, the technical decisions are made. The RAMBIS will make the turn over and the lift. But the lifting pontoon is currently in Holland and it will take a few hours before his arrival on the spot. In the meantime, our divers can already install the messengers under the wreck who will later be used to pull the huge slings of steels.

The salvage of the DN31

The RAMBIS Arrives the following night. Immediately the crew starts works.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

As the dredge still lay upside down, a turnover is necessary in order to pump the water out.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

Everything is now ready. The turnaround may begin. Six minutes later, the dredge has regained its normal position and the compartments can be emptied of their waters.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

Unfortunately, for families, inside those no trace of the poor sailors.

The salvage of the DN31
The salvage of the DN31

For us, the rescue is completed. It remains only to retrieve the container filled with equipment that lies somewhere in the middle of the Scheldt.

The salvage of the DN31

As for the dredging unit, she was send on a shipyard in the Netherlands for repair.

The salvage of the DN31

Papy One

Photos : FH / NICO / BDC / Internet

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27 mars 2015 5 27 /03 /mars /2015 15:57
The Zombie Diver

Let us make a little return to the construction of the Rupel Tunnel.

As I had already written in a previous article, this construction was for us commercial divers one of the most important works in Belgium and we were several diving teams to work there in various locations at the same time.

One day, I don’t exactly remember why the diving supt. asked me to stop my current dive to rapidly go to another part of the site to make an inspection.

When we arrived I could see that another diver was in the water on the same spot and thus while my assistant was setting up the dive plant, I went to see my colleague George to explain him that I had to make a small bottom inspection in the vicinity.

In those days I was quite a practical joker and while discussing with him a little joke reach my brain and thus I asked Georges to not inform his diver of my presence.

A few minutes later everything is ready and I can jump in the water.

Rapidly I join the down line and start my descend to the bottom.

During the descent, the light disappears very quickly and once on the bottom at some 24 meters, it is so fully black that even the beam of a flashlight would not be seen.

Immediately, I call my tender to know how far I find myself from the other diver.

My tender tells me: «If you look towards the sheet piles go to your right, Jean-Marie is more or less 7 meters from you».

I inhale a deep breath, then very slowly while holding my breath I'm moving to his direction.

Here he is I hear its breathing.

Immediately, I base my breathing on his own so that he can’t detect me.

I still keep to approach very slowly, then when I'm almost at his side, I lay myself down on my back right in the axis of its displacement.

The sound of his breath grows; I hear that he is coming on me.

Again I hold my breath because I do not want him to detect the air bubbles coming out of my regulator.

There he is, he buts on me, stop moving and begins to feel me up.

He seems feverish.

While he feels me up, I hear him call: ’’ Surface! Surface! pick up diver slack, I have found something, I come up”.

Strange I thought, he does not mention that he found a diver.

I now feel that he grabs me by the harness and pull me up.

I need to breathe, thus again start to take mini inspirations always set up on his own breathing rate.

The ascent begins; Jean-Marie holds me firmly but is still making no comments to his tender.

Take care, the water clears up, we are approaching the surface.

A few moments later we burst the surface.

Our two diving hoods are facing.

Through my half-closed eyes, I see that Jean-Marie look at me with surprise probably wondering what I was doing next to him.

For me, it’s too much I cannot bare more.

I suddenly throw my arms to the sky and push a huge cry as a Devil coming out of his Pandora's Box.

It's too much; my poor colleague is so shocked that I believe he going to make a heart attack.

I can’t stop myself from laughing even under Jean-Marie blows that are now raining down on my hood.

It’s not possible, I'm a fucking bastard.

Of course, for a long time we spoke of this macabre joke.

Then with the years the story fell into oblivion until this day of October 87 where I was supervising a dive in the Persian Gulf.

One of our divers nicknamed Rika Zaraï had completed it’s in water decompression and I had given him the signal to come up.

Oddly, I received no acknowledge response, silence on the comm’s.

I went to the diving ladder to check what was happening and there saw my diver floating motionless at the surface.

Immediately, I called the rest of the team who were already equipping the next diver to come lend me assistance.

They threw themselves on the umbilical while I got myself in the water to put the unfortunate diver on my shoulder in order to facilitate its recovery.

But I had barely started to climb the ladder that all of a sudden he did to me the same joke that I had done to my poor Belgian colleague.

Full with rage I throw him back in the water and sent my foot in the helmet.

There, I understood all of a sudden the anguish that my poor Jean-Marie must have felled.


Like Confucius says, Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.


Papy One

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28 février 2015 6 28 /02 /février /2015 17:49
The story of a nearly crushed diver

During my offshore period, I also got used to work from time to time in Belgium for my former colleague Rik who had created his own diving company.

This allowed me to not lose my experience in civil engineering which unlike offshore diving was most of the time done in fully black water.

One day in November 88, Rik called me to go to the Van Damme sluice in Zeebrugge to replace a brake block under one of the doors.

To permit you to understand the nature of my work, you have to know that this huge sea sluice is isolated from the sea and the docks by 2 big rolling doors. Once in his close position, the door is held in place by two big clamps (one at each end) which are closed hydraulically and pressed against a concrete beam.

Like any moving parts, these brake blocks wore out and we had to replace them at regular intervals.

This replacement was entirely done under water according to a specific methodology.

The job was very technical, but the major difficulty was to gain access to the working area. Indeed, to reach the place I had to creep under the door of the lock, and then once inside it I needed to install various hoists and pulling devices to a few steel profiles so that I could bring the braking device to its position. Once there, this new brake had to be lifted for one meter and then be positioned accurately in front of his support so that I could introduce a series of screws.

This last phase of work was by far the most complicated because at this point, the space between the concrete beam and the braking block did not exceed 45 cm. So you see a very tiny place to work in and where I could hardly pass my chest.

During my dive, I had now arrived at this last operation and had already installed two or three bolts.

Quietly and being careful to not hook myself, I stepped slowly backward and went to the tool basket to pick up a new bolt.

I was barely out of the door when suddenly I heard a light whistling sound that ended with a "Clack".

What a strange noise I thought but without attaching any importance to it.

Then I grabbed my new bolt and crept again under the door to reach the clamp.

Arriving on it my blood froze and I was immediately taken by a fear quiver.

The story of a nearly crushed diver

The small space in which I had worked a minute earlier was now fully enclosed and the brake pressed against the concrete beam.

I immediately crawled out of the door and began to shout on the phone like a mad treating the surface crew of all imaginable bird names.

Then without saying anything, I grabbed the down line and came up rapidly to the surface. There, mad with rage and without even waiting for the help I removed my equipment and threw everything down.

At the surface, they had still not well understood what had happened because I was so shocked that I couldn’t explain myself correctly.

Then after a while I get a bit calmer and could finally tell them about the IMPOSSIBLE. Indeed, although being blocked in the control room, the hydraulic cylinders operating the clamps had moved and shut down the brake on which I was working.

Having finally understood the situation, Rik run to the sluice master to know who and why the lockout and tag had been removed.

Of course, the story made a terrific fuss and five minutes later all the lock-keepers were near me to once more hear my version.

On the side of the technical service, each vowed its great gods that they hadn't touched anything and according to them, the only explanation they could provide was that there probably remained a residual pressure in the circuit that close the cylinders.

But to me this explanation did not convince me entirely.

Anyway, I was now in a very stressful situation because I was really shocked by the incident to the point that I wanted leave the site.

But, on the other hand, I knew that in doing so I could have some difficulties to get back in the water in a few days.

I therefore took my courage in both hands and get re-dressed to finish the job that I had started. Arriving on the pad, I tried to not think to the heap of bloody mush I could have been if I had stayed a few seconds more to this place.

Half an hour later I came up with the mission completed. My dive, had calm me, but during the weeks that followed, my sleep was filled by horrible nightmares.

Then with the time nightmares ceased and were replaced by other dreams from more enjoyable situation.


A verbal record or a simple panel indicating "diver in the water" is not enough. A proper lockout is: remove fuses, put a lock or other device to 100% ensure that the concerned equipment cannot be returned to service.


Papy One

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21 février 2015 6 21 /02 /février /2015 14:09

_2139.jpgIn 2005, a well-known electricity supplier, made contact with us to plan an accurate inspecting work in one of its fuel pools which could in function of the encountered results lead to the welding of a small patch. As one might imagine, welding under water is far more complex than surface welding and most especially when it comes to weld some thin special stainless steel like those existing in most nuclear plants. Thus in addition to the preparation of the inspection procedure, the client also asked us as well to prepare a welding procedure for this operation.

This meant that we had plenty of work ahead of us.

To accompany me in this operation, I had selected 3 of our divers/welders and prepared for them an underwater welding training program with that type of stainless steel so that they could pass their qualification without problem.


Personally, I had a good work and dive experience within nuclear installations.

But for my colleagues, it was the first time that they were going to intervene in the hot area and therefore they had also to follow a course concerning the nuclear safety and radiological risks.


But theory is one thing and practices another and so like any newbie they were a bit scared about this type of diving and many more questions came up concerning their safety.

Among these, was the question of how we at the surface were going to control the level of radiation to which they could be faced during their dives?

Very professionally I explained them that a radiation mapping from the bottom would be carried out before diving and this would allow us to localize the potential hot spot places where they should avoid passing.


Secondly, I told them that they would be equipped with a probe connected to the surface that would measure in real time the radiation level they will be exposed to and thus be able us to act accordingly.

Thirdly, I also said them that they would carry several electronic sensors and dosimetry films underneath the dry suit which would measure the dose of radiation absorbed during each dive.

But while I was explaining all this  something made 'TILT' in my small brain.

It’s perhaps the accumulation of too many diving and saturation hours, but I’ve always loved to crack jokes to my colleagues and I must say that I was gifted to make them swallow almost anything.

So here, while continuing to develop the subject, I told them that these sensors and dosimetry films were positioned at the extremity of each member and that the last dosimeter was positioned to the level of sex.


In reality, these instruments of control are simply held in place by adhesive tapes but here I couldn’t help to change truth a little bit and thus the most seriously of the world told them:

-    Besides, concerning that last one, the guys from the RP (radiation protection) service who provide the instruments have asked me to communicate the measurements of your sex so that they could prepare the adequate dosimetry rings.

Immediately as you might expect my divers began to laugh.

-    No, no my boys, I’m not kidding you, it is always like that.

-    Remember that your balls are very sensitive to radiation and therefore the reading need to be very accurate and this can be only done with a tight-fitting ring.

-    Thus once we will have finished our little meeting, I will ask you to measure the circumference of your verge in a RESTING position and write it on a piece of paper.

Apparently, I had managed to convince them because shortly after lunch, three small pieces of paper carefully folded arrived on my desk.


-    OK, thanks guys, I'll send the info to our client and in the meantime this afternoon we will practice how to put on and remove your diving equipment to avoid contamination.


The afternoon went on normally, but it was too beautiful, my Joker spirit could not help thinking what was going to happen next.

At the end of the day, I called my colleagues back and with an air lightly embarrassed said to them:

-    Look guys, I just had a phone call from the client, and he asks us to confirm your measurements because they look wrong. But at contrary if they are  correct then there is a real problem because they don’t have such small dosimetry rings.

Small sneering of the divers.

-    You will damn us there?

-    No I assure you, I would not allow me to joke on that matter.

Then all of a sudden, a big laugh came from a desk in the background.

It was the Secretary to whom I had told what I was working on, and which was now convulsed with laughter and thus put an end to the Machiavellian story I had mounted.

But my three divers weren’t laughing at all and they rapidly left the office.

As one might imagine, the same evening I took myself a few measurements to reassure me.

Phew, I was in the standards.

The welding training and preparation of the work, lasted some time yet, then the D day arrived.

And so on a certain day of 2005 we all together left our office for the nuclear plant.

Once on-site, I introduce my divers to Marc, the person in charge of our work.

 I knew Marc pretty well and had informed him of the hoax.

He offered us some coffee and we talked about some banalities during some minutes.

Then he seized his phone, formed an internal number and told its correspondent the following words:

Allo André! look, the diver with their little dicks are here in my office. Can you bring me the special order.

He lay down the phone and immediately both of us burst in laughter under the enraged eyes of my colleagues.

 In their eyes, I saw that the retaliation would be terrible and I now had better be on my guard.

 But nothing happened, the entire work took place in the joy and the good mood and the client was fully satisfied with our service.


Today, some years later and despite the threats that I had recived, nothing unpleasant happened to me.

Maybe my colleagues forgot to take revenge.

 Let us hope that they will not read this confidential article which I hope will remain between us.


 Laughing is so good

 Papy One









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