Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.
RESEARCH, EDUCATION & MEDICINE ADVANCED DIVING used to time divers’ ascents from depth to prevent decompression sickness (DCS). The experimental timetable developed by the Navy and Bureau of Mines was based on lab tests using guinea pigs and had not been tested in water with humans. There are brief reports of men diving with helium-oxygen mixtures in 1924, but these were likely chamber dives. Despite the fact that the Navy divers involved in the project were officially on leave, newspapers claimed that Navy and Bureau of Mines officials saw the Lakeland investigation as an opportunity to field-test and perhaps refine the new helium-oxygen diving techniques. The fact that the Bureau of Mines maintained nearmonopoly control over the U.S. helium supply, considered a strategic resource at the time, also points to some degree of official sanction of the involvement of Navy divers in the Lakeland investigation. The helium used by the divers could have been acquired only by requesting it directly from the Bureau of Mines. Since the three Navy men had been stationed at the Bureau of Mines Pittsburgh Experiment Station, they would have had the necessary contacts to make such a request. The salvage barge Chittendon was called in to support the mission, and before leaving the Port of New York it was equipped with a diving platform, as well as a decompression chamber on loan from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. If the untested decompression tables proved inaccurate or other emergencies arose, the chamber could have been a lifesaving device. The team was equipped with a new, high-intensity, electric underwater light developed by Westinghouse Electric Co. The 1,000-watt light allegedly lit the interior of the wreck “as bright as the average city living room … the men could even read the figures on the [wreck’s] small gauges.” In mid-August 1925, Chittendon arrived from New York City. It took several days to outfit it and anchor it in position at the wreck site. Over the next three weeks the dive team made multiple dives on the wreck to conduct its investigation. As the mission reached the stage of entering the broken hull of Lakeland, each descent involved two divers; the first operated as lead diver and the second as a tender. The tender remained outside the wreck and ensured the safety of the lead diver, who penetrated the interior and risked having his supply lines tangled or damaged. Within the first week, Navy diver Eiven suffered a case of DCS and had to be placed in Chittendon’s recompression chamber. By the final week of the investigation all five divers had suffered from at least one bout of DCS. Newspaper reports claimed that none of these cases were serious, but their occurrence suggests there were problems with the decompression tables developed at the Pittsburgh Experiment Station by the joint Navy-Bureau of Mines program. Despite these difficulties, the first effort to investigate a shipwreck at such a great depth was deemed a success, and the salvage crew was treated to a farewell party and dance at Sturgeon Bay’s Grasshopper Pavilion. The total cost of the diving operation was estimated to be $60,000. The consortium of insurers maintained a degree of secrecy regarding the findings until Sept. 11, 1925, when their attorney, William Day, made an official announcement. Day stated that the dive team had found evidence of “barratry” (fraud or gross negligence by a ship’s master or crew at the expense of its owners or users), claiming Lakeland’s crew had intentionally opened valves causing the ship to take on water and sink. Reinhartsen was the first to reach the aft seacock (a through-hull valve) that was allegedly left open. This and other evidence contradicting the initial reports of the ship’s sinking was later presented in agonizing detail by the insurance companies’ lawyers to support their claim that Thompson Transit Co.’s owners ordered the crew to scuttle the ship and therefore were not covered for the loss. Lakeland sank with at least 22 1925-model-year Nash, Kissel and Rollin automobiles, 21 of which are known to be on the wreck site today (recreational divers recovered one Rollin car in 1979). Although several vehicles are visible through hatches or cracks in the deck or exposed where overhead decks blew away during sinking, Wisconsin Historical Society archaeologists have penetrated deep inside Lakeland’s hull to document each vehicle and gather evidence to list Lakeland on the National Register of Historic Places. Experts from the Wisconsin Automobile Museum, Western Reserve Historical Society and Nash Automobile Club of America identified the cars. The Kissel cars aboard Lakeland were fitted out as show cars intended for the 1925 Detroit Auto Show. Visiting the wreck today is challenging due to its location and depth. Wisconsin dive charter operators do not run regular trips to the site, and diving it requires almost perfect conditions. After the wreck of the Lakeland gave impetus for the world’s first heliox mixed-gas diving nearly a century ago, the legacy of those early divers can be traced through the developments that followed right up to the advanced recreational trimix training that is required today to visit this fascinating shipwreck. AD LEARN MORE Visit nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/15000403.pdf. 46 | SUMMER 2016
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