Last Breath: it’s a job to dive for
04 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Chris Lemons in Last Breath
Directed by Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson
NEXT time you are at work, moaning about your chair, your desk, your boss, your colleagues, or whatever it is about earning a daily crust that gets up your shnozzer, you might do well to cast your mind to the story of Chris Lemons.
He is what is known as a SAT diver – a person whose job is to clamber into a cramped little diving bell, head to the bottom of the ocean floor, put on a special suit and then walk off to do some heavy engineering in the most hostile environment on the planet.
The conditions he works in are quite hard to really get your head round. The weight of the water creates 10 times atmospheric pressure (hard to understand for us laymen, but it basically means you’d be squidged like a Mike Tyson crushing a grape). The temperature is about four degrees – maybe not so bad for the hardy souls who go in the Men’s Pond all year round, but add to that it’s pitch dark, the currents swirl with no rhyme nor reason and the seabed provides an uneven and unpredictable surface, it’s not the easiest of working spaces.
Divers are kitted out in high-tech suits and are fed all they need for their life support by an umbilical cord. It stretches about 90 metres and is attached to a pressurised diving bell, which in turn is attached to a ship on the surface, bobbing about in the 50-foot swells of the North Sea.
The crews are teams of three, and they live in the diving bells for six-week stretches. It is akin to being an astronaut, they say, living in cramped and trying conditions.
This film tells the story of how Chris Lemons went with his two colleagues to replace a stanchion on a seabed rig. His umbilical cord somehow got tangled.
Meanwhile, the ship above had a massive computer malfunction and had set off in a different direction, meaning he couldn’t wriggle it free. The cord snapped. He had five minutes gas left in an emergency tank, and help – if his colleagues could find him – was a good half-hour away.
The story is told through thoughtful talking-heads interviews and real-time footage. It is nerve-wracking in the extreme, and sits in the genre of documentary films that tell stories of extreme bravery, extraordinary conditions, and the minuteness of humans in the natural world.