A deep sea diver has described the day he survived under water for 30 minutes after a computer failure saw his oxygen supply cut off.
In a new documentary, Chris Lemons tells the incredible story of his rescue, despite almost non-existent chances of survival and successful recovery.
In 2012, the saturation diver was repairing oil rig structures about 300 feet (91 metres) below the North Sea when his ‘umbilical cord’ was severed.
He and his colleagues Dave Youasa and Duncan Allcock were lowered from a dive support ship in a diving chamber to fix a drill deep below the surface.
The cord – a tether which leads from the diving bell to the ship – provides divers with breathing gas and hot water for diving suits in the freezing water.
A deep sea diver who cheated death has described how he survived under water for 30 minutes after a computer failure saw his oxygen supply cut off. In 2012, Chris Lemons was working about 300 feet under water in the North Sea. Here, fellow diver Duncan Allcock
Edinburgh-born Chris, then 33, was left with just his oxygen tank when the tether snapped on a piece of metal after a computer system suddenly failed.
When the air supply from the tank ran out, he lost consciousness and was pulled down to the sea bed.
His colleagues were able to drag him to the surface after 38 minutes without oxygen but feared the worst when they pulled his unconscious body from the water.
After what they thought was a fruitless attempt at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, astonishingly he regained consciousness after only two breaths.
Nearly seven years later, Mr Lemons has described how he is still perplexed as to how he managed to survive for so long without oxygen.
His extraordinary story of his brush with death has been turned into a feature length documentary called Last Breath, in cinemas from this week.
Speaking to BBC Future, he describes that he was resigned to his fate and couldn’t help but feel sorry for his fiance, Morag.
On the day, the team were lowered 91m to fix a pipe on the sea bed at the Huntington Oil Field in Aberdeenshire.
In 2012, the saturation diver was repairing oil rig structures about 300 feet (91 metres) below the North Sea when his ‘umbilical cord’ was severed. He and his colleagues Dave Youasa and Duncan Allcock were lowered from a dive support ship in a diving chamber to fix a drill deep below the surface
‘In many ways, it was just an ordinary day at the office. The sea was a little rough on the surface, but it was pretty clear underwater,’ he said.
Mr Lemons was in the middle of the repair when he heard an alarm.
The dynamic positioning system, a computer-controlled navigation which keeps them over the dive site suddenly failed and the ship rapidly began drifting off course.
‘I’m not sure I had a full handle on what was happening,’ Mr Lemons told BBC future.
‘I hit the sea bed on my back and was surrounded by an all-encompassing darkness.
‘I knew I had a very small amount of gas on my back and my chances of getting out of it were almost non-existent.
They began following their umbilical cords, but the ship had already drifted back over the tall metal structure they were working on, meaning they had to climb it.
Nearly seven years later, Mr Lemons has described how he is still perplexed as to how he managed to survive for so long without oxygen. Here, a still from the trailer showing the umbilical cord, which snapped when Lemons was under water
Mr Lemons, then 33, was left with just his oxygen tank remained still to conserve his energy but lost consciousness when the air supply from the tank ran out. This graphic explains how the accident happened deep under the oil rig
Mr Lemons, here with his wife Morag on their wedding day, was left with just his oxygen tank but lost consciousness when the air supply ran out. His colleagues were able to drag him to the surface 38 minutes later but feared the worst when they pulled his body from the water
His extraordinary story of his brush with death has been turned into a feature length documentary called Last Breath, in cinemas from this week. Speaking to BBC Future , he describes that he was resigned to his fate and couldn’t help but feel sorry for his fiance, Morag
Nearly seven years later, Mr Lemons has described how he is still perplexed as to how he managed to survive for so long without oxygen. Mr Lemons is a professional diver working from an oil rig in the North Sea (pictured)
HOW THE COLD TEMPERATURES COULD HAVE SAVED CHRIS LEMONS’ LIFE
A diving medical expert claimed the cold temperatures of the North Sea might have helped save Chris Lemons.
The freezing water could have activated his diving reflex which would have slowed his heart and optimised his respiration while under water.
Oliver Firth, medical director of the London Diving Chamber, said: ‘It’s staggering that he survived. He should be dead at that sort of depth.
‘It’s incredible that he had the presence of mind to stay calm and not try and get to the surface in a panic, as panicking leads to death in this sort of instance.
‘The interesting thing here is that it happened in very cold water. It sounds like the diving reflex might have played a part in this.
‘When very cold water touches our faces, the reflex is activated and it’s designed to protect our bodies by slowing the heart down and optimising respiration while under water.
‘Animals have it too, but it’s much stronger, which is why seals and other mammals can stay under water for long periods of time.
‘If his umbilical cord was severed, I assume his helmet would have filled with water which might have hit chemical receptors on certain areas of the face, such as the forehead. This might have activated the reflex. It’s a protective response.
‘He would have had maybe 10 litres of air in his emergency oxygen tank which, at that depth, would not have lasted very long – maybe eight to 10 minutes.
‘This is one of the most remarkable stories I have heard, not only because of his survival but his rapid recovery.’
However when they neared the top, Mr Lemon’s umbilical became snagged on a piece of metal sticking out of the structure.
He fell down to the sea bed immediately in ‘absolute darkness’ in the morning spending a total of 30 minutes below with no air.
‘A kind of resignation came over me,’ he said. ‘I remember being taken over by grief in some ways.’
His colleagues put in a ‘superhuman effort’ to locate him, believing they were coming down to recover a body.
Dave Youasa hauled him to the diving bell where his colleague Duncan Allcock gave him two breaths and miraculously – he came to life.
It was 35 minutes after he had turned on his emergency supply of air.
Without oxygen, the human body can only survive for a few minutes before its cells begin to fail.
With nothing to breathe for that long, Mr Lemons could easily have suffered brain damage.
But according to experts, it is likely the cold water may have played a part in his survival.
Around 100m (328ft) down, the water was probably below 3C (37F), they explained.
Without the hot water flowing through the umbilical cord to heat his suit, his body and brain will have quickly cooled.
‘Loss of oxygen is right at the very sharp end of survival,’ says Mike Tipton, head of the extreme environments laboratory at Portsmouth University in the UK.
‘The human body doesn’t have a great store of oxygen – maybe a couple of litres. How you use that up depends on your metabolic rate.’
The training of saturation divers like Chris Lemons may also have taught his body to cope with extreme situations.