Breaking the World Record – Deep Sea Recovery

We didn’t actually dive a man to 17,253 feet of sea water when we recovered a helicopter from that depth, but there were disturbing bodies to be dealt with, 6 weeks of precision ship driving – like a never ending video game, and lots of diving in shark infested waters.  I think we earned our brief mention in the 1993 Guinness Book of Records.  Our platform was USS Salvor, a 250 foot deep sea diving and salvage ship with a topside recompression chamber, two diving stages (elevators for lowering divers into the water) and two large booms (one capable of lifting 40 tons, the other 20 tons).  For this particular mission, we had to on load CURV-III, at the time the most sophisticated and capable DSRV (deep sea remote vehicle).  This required 100,000 deck welds, the embarkation of 20 technical support personnel, a control van for the computer geeks, and a spool of 1 inch synthetic line which was the size of a small house.  The spool was 55 feet wide and 35 feet in diameter.  (That’s 20,000 feet of line)  We also had a smaller second spool of 3 inch synthetic line which would be used when the helicopter was within 300 feet of the surface.  If we had used 3 inch line to the full recovery depth, that spool would’ve been larger than the ship.  The beefier line was necessary at shallower depths because the sea action and weight of the helicopter put a much greater strain on the now much shorter line.  Since the ship was required to maintain station over the helicopter for the duration of recovery, our trash had gathered dozens of 8-12 foot white tip sharks (known for eating more men than all other shark species combined – that’s because they’re open ocean and have fed on so many maritime casualties).  This was supposed to be a 5 day operation, but the lines kept parting (dropping the helicopter) and the fiber optics on the DSRV failed almost daily.  Like most well planned Naval operations, nothing went as planned and it literally took us 10 times longer than estimated.  By the end of week 4, all we had left to eat were dry pancakes and strawberry jam.  (I will never again eat pancakes)  Navy command wouldn’t let us break off for resupply.  This was a cost based decision – money over men.  When we finally got the helicopter to a workable depth, we dove in and attached the 3 inch line around the rotor assembly, which was actually more dangerous than the sharks swarming all around us.  If we became fouled in the line, rotor assembly, or somehow grabbed should the line part – for the 50th time – we’d be taking a 3 mile missile ride to the bottom of the ocean.  But we eventually got that helicopter over the side and removed the brave men who died serving our country.  Sorry I can’t tell you why they wanted that darn helicopter back so badly.  If I told you, you’d think healthcare for illegal immigrants was money well spent.

Six weeks aboard ship – my no more pancakes face.  00000021 (2)

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