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Monday, January 10, 2005

the crash

One of the jobs we had to do in the diving business was regrettably not a very easy task, we were often called upon to look for bodies in plane and helicopter crashes at sea. I remember one such job I was assigned to when I was 18 yrs old was to help a crew search for a downed helicopter. It had clipped it's tail rotor on the edge of the landing pad where it was taking off from an offshore platform and crashed into the sea. It was in an area just south of the Mississippi river where the underwater current moved swiftly and the water was very muddy making it very difficult for the divers to do their job. Here is a picture of a platform, notice the helicopter deck at the very top edge.

The pilot and front seat passenger were able to get out and swim to safety when it hit the water but the two men in back went to the bottom apparently unable to get free of their seatbelts as we were soon to find out. We spent almost a week on the site sending divers down around the clock doing search patterns in a circle surrounding the platform in fairly deep water until we located the wreckage. It had been rolled along the sea floor by the strong underwater currents and was almost 400 ft away from where it had crashed. When you can't see your hand in front of your face because the water is so muddy that is a long ways off. We were on board a 200 ft long ocean-going work boat tied along side the platform where we had all of our diving equipment on board, here is a picture showing just the front half of a similar vessel.

Thankfully the weather was decent at the time and it was nice to be on deck with the sun shining and the seas calm, perfect for shorts and sneakers. One very odd thing was the sighting of a waterspout, a tornado at sea not more than a mile away from us. Really strange and I understand fairly rare occurence. It was quite beautiful actually with the sky so clear and only a dark patch of clouds over the spout itself. We watched it churning up the sea throwing huge quantities of water into the air as it moved off away from us. Simply amazing. A remarkable thing about offshore is if there is a strong breeze blowing it will blow very steady and not gusty at all. You can actually lean your weight into a strong breeze and depend on it to hold you up.

After nearly a week of around the clock diving, we finally located the chopper upside down on the bottom. We were sent to recover both the the chopper and the bodies, but they decided to bring only the bodies on board and set a buoy on a cable to the chopper for later pickup with another vessel. I was unfortunate enough to be on duty when the first body was hauled in and I had to help pull him over the rail and get him on deck. I really don't want to describe how the man looked after small fish had been eating on him for the past 4 or 5 days, lets just say it was quite horrible. We then tried to put him in a body bag but that was not easy as rigormortis had set in and the man was in a seated position with his knees up, like he was still strapped in to the chopper seat. That was one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had, and I would learn that working offshore could be quite deadly in the years ahead of me. Including several close friends being killed on the job, but, I will tell you about those later.

So for now, keep tha faith people and tell me how lousy you guys are doing on your New Year resolutions!