Byford Dolphin Accident: How Living Under Intense Pressure Led To One Of The Most Gruesome Accidents In History

To conduct offshore oil and gas operations, equipment needs to be and maintained at the final depth, often exceeding 50 meters off the coast. For divers who arrive in this bluish blue color, they must land and ascend very carefully, taking the time to decompress each small extension to avoid the terrible decoction sickness. Decompression sickness, also known as turning, is one of the biggest challenges in diving.

Nitrogen-as gases are inhaled until the diver’s tissues are saturated, meaning that these gases dissolve in the tissues in such a way that they are at the same concentration as the respiratory mixture. This varies due to the pressure, so divers need to adjust as they move. Failed to do it properly, and the results are horrible. Decompression sickness occurs when pressure changes occur very quickly, resulting in nitrogen forming bubbles in their tissues and blood. A potential life-threatening cause, it can cause excruciating pain, confusion, paralysis and even death.

Byford Dolphin Accident: How Living Under Intense Pressure Led To One Of The Most Gruesome Accidents In History

Once diagnosed, long stitches may be required in, a recombinant chamber to be re-adjusted based on the severity of the decompression disease. So, for large oil-mining rigs to do almost constant work for equipment on ocean floors, how can companies wait long enough for divers to adjust to the new pressures? The U.S. Navy found a fundamental solution in 1957 – simply put divers under extreme pressure, 24/7.

This concept, known as the Genesis Project, introduced saturation diving, one of the most dangerous and well-paid jobs available today. Saturation diving is a diving technique that involves staying under stress for so long that all your body tissues become unbalanced with inert gases in a mixture of respiratory compounds (helium or nitrogen) and then remain under that pressure for a long time.

These divers leave the safety of the dry land and enter the living quarters under pressure, and then they transferred to an underwater dwelling by means of a diving bell. Once they are saturated, they will be under intense pressure and will breathe a mixture of oxygen and helium for several weeks, until their duty tour is over and they cannot contract. Life is tiring, claustrophobic and intense for these divers. The specialized mixture causes their whole body to cool due to inhaled helium, and there is an array of therapeutic complications that can occur along with an almost constant risk of death because long-term hardening. 

A number of strict rules applied to reduce the risk of these problems in the case of forced diving time off compulsory diving time. Taken together, this risk made saturation diving one of the most specialized jobs in the world, with only 336 people employed in the United States. However, although saturation diving is safer than before, it is a wrong move and its effects are fatal. The most infamous example of this is the Byford Dolphin Accident.