The Capsizing of Progress Marine II, Part II

It was decided that the divers would attempt entry via a hatch near the bow by the galley where there wasn't as much debris in the water. Arriving at the hatch, the divers were unable to open the submerged hatch due to the pressure. The call was put out for underwater burning equipment. Using the burning gear, the divers were able to cut the hatch hinges and pry the hatch loose, allowing the divers entry to the flooded galley.

Each diver carried a light, holding their lights before them, they felt their way through the dark water. As they moved down the companionway toward the living quarters they encountered litter of bobbing furniture, clothing, boxes, and other debris. Entering the living quarters where the crew members had reportedly been sleeping at the time of the accident, they found nothing.

The divers retraced their way back to the galley looking for any air pockets where survivors may be able to gasp breathes of air. As one diver's light pierced the darkness, a hand reached out and locked around the diver's wrist. The startled diver jerked his hand back. Shining his light toward where the grasping hand was, the diver spied Darrell Jonn Dore, perched on a large pipe with his head in an 18-inch air space.

The divers had brought along an extra helmet, which they slipped over Dore's head and secured with a jock strap, just in case Dore panicked and tried to remove the helmet on the way to the surface. The trip went smoothly and Dore was transferred to the Jean G and put in the decompression chamber. Encouraged that more of the missing crew would be found alive, the rescuers plotted their next dives. Only the engine room located in the stern of the hull remained to be searched.

Exterior survey dives located the engine room hatch, where cables and thick floating debris covered the stern deck. The danger of fouling divers hoses was too great, it was decided to continue using the bow hatch. Though less dangerous, the divers would still have to travel nearly 100 feet through the dark water and debris filled bowels of the rig. The rescuers knew that there was no guarantee that the rig wouldn't continue to shift and sink to the sea floor, carrying the divers with it.

The first diver to make the long dive threading his way through the hull was Mike Mason. On the down side of the stern, 20 feet below the surface, his hemet broke water. As he look up, Mason peered into the faces of four exhausted, sick survivors. A thick layer of diesel fuel on the water surface filled the air pocket with nauseating fumes. The trapped men had given up all hope of rescue during their 26-hour ordeal and resigned themselves to their fate.

The news that the survivors had been found was relayed back to his tender, Bryon Gray, who had remained at the galley hatch. Gray, surfaced to collect an extra helmet while Mason stayed with the men. Gray carried the helmet below to the engine room, where both men helped Joseph Bellard, the sickest of the four survivors, put it on.

Gray then guided Bellard through the dark water of the 100 foot length of the hull and up to the topside crew. While Mason remained with the trapped men in the engine room throughout the five hours it took to guide them out, one by one.

Jeff Terai, the next diver to descend, lost communications when his phone cable malfunctioned, making an already dangerous situation, even more dangerous. Reduced to using hand signals to communicate in the murky engine room, Terai managed to dress out a survivor and take him safely back topside. It was nearly dusk on Monday June 2, when the last survivor Delvan Irby, was escorted to the surface and into a decompression chamber.

Only one man remained missing, having escaped the rig, he was last seen clinging to an oil drum on the surface soon after the rig capsized. Divers continued to comb the waters surrounding the rig and under it, searching for the remaining crewman. Diving operations were finally halted shortly after midnight on June 3. Several days later the missing crewman's body was found by the Coast Guard floating about five miles north of the rig.

Real heroes are men and women who are flawed, who fall and who fail; but in the end they win the day because they remained true to their beliefs, ideals and commitments. This story is dedeicated to the memory of Mike Mason ~ Diva

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Comment by Bill Gardner on November 8, 2009 at 1:29pm
Thumping good yarn. Last heard a brief version in 1977, thanks Diva

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