What happened? A Diving Support Vessel (DSV) was operating in the East Shetland basin replacing a major pump on the sea bed adjacent to an offshore installation at a depth of 140 meters. Divers living in the saturation chambers on the DSV were travelling to the sea bed in a diving bell. One diver, on his first saturation dive, developed a rare complication, burst lung in this case resulting in a pneumomediastinum, where breathing gas had leaked from his lung into the area around his heart and into his neck.
This condition could be life-threatening, particularly during the several days of decompression required to bring the diver back to the surface, as the gas expands and could press on the heart and other structures in the chest and neck. There was also a risk that the affected lung might collapse.
We mobilised a diving doctor, able to work in the chamber at pressure, to the DSV with the recommended Diving Medical Advisory Committee (DMAC) equipment. With support from one of our diving medical specialists onshore, this doctor advised the vessel on the care of the diver and conduct of the decompression ensuring that he was brought safely back to the surface with minimal delay and no adverse effects. This complication has occurred twice before in the North Sea, once with a fatal outcome and once where the decompression was protracted over several weeks.
Our follow up
In subsequent investigation of the diver and the incident, no underlying cause of the problem was identified and unfortunately this ended the divers career as a saturation diver.