On the 19th September 2012 Chris Lemon’s seemingly lifeless body was entombed 300ft down at the bottom of the frigid North Sea. The saturation diver had been there for over 36 minutes without oxygen; previously becoming separated from his support vessel after its dynamic positioning system failed, the crew desperately trying to reach him.
In saturation diving, a support vessel lowers a pressurised diving bell until it is above the desired work site. Two divers usually exit the diving bell and work 8-hour shifts on the ocean floor, whilst one diver remains in the bell to act as support. The divers are attached to the diving bell through an umbilical cord which supplies vital hot water, to keep the divers warm, as well as oxygen. In the event of an emergency, the divers are equipped with backup oxygen canisters supplying 6 minutes of air.
42 minutes earlier the support vessel began rapidly drifting away from the work site due to a North Sea storm. Chris’ diving partner managed to make it to the diving bell in time, however, Chris was not so lucky with his umbilical cord becoming entangled, eventually shearing from the diving bell. With pitch darkness surrounding him, Chris immediately became aware of the dire nature of his situation.
“I realised very quickly that my chances of survival or being rescued were pretty much non-existent.
“You do the quick maths in the moment and I knew that the bailout would only last five or six minutes at absolute best, so I knew that even if they had been straight above me on their way to rescue me there was a decent chance that I wouldn’t have been back in time.
“Once I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to save myself, calm comes over you I think, resignation more than anything else.
“Then it was just a case of being extremely sad, it wasn’t a case of frantically thrashing about and searching for a solution, it was a case of quiet resignation and thinking of the people you’re going to leave behind.”
He shortly became unconscious whilst everyone on the ship and his dive partners worked tirelessly for a solution, all of them quickly facing up to the grim reality that Chris was most likely dead. Nethertheless, they managed to manually steer the ship back to above the worksite and get the positioning system back online. 42 minutes after becoming separated, his fellow divers managed to pull him into the diving bell.
Miraculously they managed to resuscitate him, to which he quickly came around with no brain damage or adverse side effects. Chris continues to dive to this day.
Despite years of reflection and medical examination, there are only theories as to how he survived.
“I’ve been to various diving conferences and hyperbaric conferences since and spoke to lots of doctors and even they seem fairly stumped.
“The general consensus seems to be that the gas I had on my back had quite a high percentage of oxygen relative to what you breathe on the surface, for example, and that effectively saturated my tissues and cells with the oxygen they needed to survive.”