Trapped in pitch darkness without oxygen 90-metres down on North Sea-bed, Bibby diver survivor hero now tells of near-death hell to improve industry safety

Bibby hero diver  Chris Lemons (left) and Dave Yuasa recovering in the Dive Bell following the rescue
Bibby hero diver Chris Lemons (left) and Dave Yuasa recovering in the Dive Bell following the rescue

On a dark, black North Sea night in September three years ago, a rare sequence of events left a Bibby Offshore saturation diver stranded in complete darkness 90 metres below the surface of the North Sea … without any oygen.

The diver – Chris Lemons – was later rescued and recovered fully, but Bibby Offshore is now sharing his harrowing experience and the lessons it has learnt in a ‘reality-TV’ documentary using real time footage and reconstruction of the event to recount the remarkable events that took place that evening in 2012.

Lemons was left alone and cut off to survive for 38 minutes before his colleagues were able to find him and pull him to safety.

The documentary outlines the potentially life threatening situation, the lessons learnt and the improvements to safety the company has made on a global scale. 

The TV documentary also demonstrates human reaction to changing and challenging circumstances, and how leadership training, and the right behaviours, procedures and emergency response actions can tip the balance in a life and death scenario.

Due to the combined effects of unique faults in the dynamic positioning system, the diving support vessel Bibby Topaz was left 190 metres off-position.

At the time, diver Lemons and his colleague Dave Yuasa were stationed subsea working in a drilling template.

Bibby divers were trapped 90m below the surface of the North Sea - without oxygen for 38 minutes
Bibby divers were trapped 90m below the surface of the North Sea – without oxygen for 38 minutes

Although both divers got out of the template safely, Lemons’ umbilical, which provided him with breathing gas, hot water for his suit and communications, became trapped and subsequently parted, leaving him alone and in complete darkness on the seabed.

After almost 40 minutes in incredibly harsh and life-threatening conditions, the actions taken by the Bibby Topaz team resulted in Lemonos being rescued and returned to the bell – unconscious, but alive.

He later made a full recovery, and the incident provided the unique opportunity to improve and enhance diver safety across the entire industry which Bibby Offshore was absolutely determined to grasp.

Chris Cleghorn, health and safety lead advisor at Bibby Offshore – who was on-board the support boat on the night of the incident – said: “Whilst technical safety films are hugely valuable tools, our documentary does not set out to address safety issues from this point of view, rather it focuses on the human response and personal impact.

 “In addition to the many lessons to be learned from the incident, its aim is to make us consider the consequences of things going wrong, and the documentary serves as a vivid reminder of the preciousness of a human life.”

 Bibby Offshore has used this documentary to engage with the industry, through regular communication with operators, subsea contractors and industry bodies. The lessons learnt from the incident and the initiatives identified, are also continually addressed through the company’s diving safety workgroup

Directly after the incident, company chief Sir Michael Bibby and Bibby Offshore’s Chief Executive Howard Woodcock took the decision to form the diving safety workgroup to take every step possible to identify how the safety of diving operations can be further enhanced and the risk reduced to as low as possible.

CGI of Bibby dive support vessel ROV  searching for trapped diver Chris Lemons
CGI of Bibby dive support vessel ROV searching for trapped diver Chris Lemons

The diving support workgroup is the means by which Bibby Offshore has continued to engage with the industry since the incident. Its scope covers safety in diving operations, technological development in diving equipment, gaining feedback from offshore teams and assisting with the implementation of identified enhancements while monitoring the effectiveness of them.

The whole Bibby Offshore team knows the 2012 incident could have ended in tragedy. However their goal is to learn from the event, enhance technology and systems, and encourage the entire global diving industry to do the same.

A Bibby Offshore diving bell
A Bibby Offshore diving bell

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