In 1974, International Underwater Contractors obtained a contract to dive for Conoco on the semi-submersible, Venture 1. At that time, Conoco had their headquarters in Dundee and Mr Andre Galerne, President of the diving company, was concerned about the morbidity and Mortality in-the North Sea. It had achieved an unenviable reputation, with deaths averaging about ten a year. Most of this was related to Northern sector experience, where the depths are in excess of 80 metres. Even bounce diving in such depths, requires prolonged decompression times and Mr Galerne was quick to point out that these are remote and hostile waters. Most of the activity at this time was in the drilling phase and it was argued that the Industry would soon move on to the construction phase, where the possibility of illness and trauma under pressure would increase. Saturation diving techniques would also involve prolonged decompression times.

His action, which deserves enormous respect, was to commission the South West Research Institute in San Antonio to build two titanium chambers. A small chamber, essentially a hyperbaric stretcher and a larger, two-person chamber, which would remain in the helicopter, together would allow divers to be transported from a facility offshore to a shore-based chamber. Although there was some delay in the commissioning of these chambers, they eventually appeared towards the end of 1977 and a successful demonstration, which many said was impossible, took place in 1978.

Although attitudes to medical evacuation have changed over the years, Mr Galerne's concern with safety was very laudable and he was prepared to actually finance his ideas. However, by 1978, many changes had taken place in the Industry. Systems had improved enough to actually allow divers to stand up fully in the chamber. The surface support crews became better trained, and much more experienced. There was also an accumulation of experience in the actual, as distinct from the theoretical, problems, because a great deal of underwater construction had taken place and many thousands of man-hours in saturation had been undertaken.

In 1978, I gave a presentation on the transport of casualties under pressure at the British Medical Association Conference in Aviemore. I said that I was not, at that time, aware of a case of near-drowning in bell diving where a diver had subsequently required intensive care, although it was clearly possible for the management of such a patient to be undertaken in the diving system offshore. In April 1984, such an incident happened aboard the Dundee Kingsnorth. There was an underwater explosion associated with a cutting operation, which shattered the visor of the helmet, ruptured the diver's eardrums and gave him a right-sided pneumothorax. During the rescue, he undoubtedly inhaled water. Last week, the bellman, Neil Wiggins, received the Frank Dearman Award for his superb recovery. He resuscitated the diver in the bell, but in the chamber the diver did require intensive care and a diver medic, who equally deserved an award, Ian Gray-Taylor, assisted his ventilation, gave him an intravenous infusion and generally looked after him in a most professional manner.

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