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Wadding - Escape from 603ft

Interview with Peter Wadding on a record breaking Submarine Escape

When was this?

The date of the most recent deep escape exercise was July 1987 from HMS Otus in Oos, a small town and Fjord in Norway about 25 miles north of Bergen.

How many instructors did the escape?

Approx 25 instructors started the escape exercise from many countries, including Australia (6), Norway (2), Canada (1), Turkey (1), Israel (3, including a Doctor for support).

How long did it take for each to get out?

When you are in a single escape tower it is calibrated to flood and equalise in a maximum of 24 seconds. This is based on how long the body can be under pressure at 600ft (maximum design depth).

Each flooding, regardless of depth, takes between 20 and 24 seconds, depending on how free the hatch is. It is not a straight line curve, the pressure doubles every 4 seconds, I can assure you at deeper depths (from 300ft to 600ft in 4 seconds) that this is an extremely traumatic experience.

David Attenborough had a TV programme about the walrus and said the human body could not stand the rate of pressurisation as the walrus dived deep and fast. I worked it out and it was half the rate of pressurisation we had to endure. Needless to say I wrote and told him. Got a nice reply too.

What was the speed of ascent?

An ascent from 100ft takes about 20 seconds, about 5ft/second. It is relatively longer from deeper depths as you generally do not travel in a straight line (from 600ft you could be 150ft away from your release point) and you are less buoyant at deeper depths. From 600ft an ascent could take between 3 and 4 minutes.

Was it done in stages?

Due to the amount of buoyancy, once you start you cant stop, there is no control and therefore it cannot be achieved in stages.

Did you use the Mk8 suits?

Yes, we used Mk 8 suits, but some Mk 9's were used as trials. They were not in service at this time. I used one from 400ft and it was fine.

Where any injuries were incurred?

There were several injuries at the deeper depths, ranging from oxygen narcosis, perforated ear drums and bends. I think about 9 of us remained at 500ft and less at 603ft.

There were several cases of bends when the exercise had to suspended until the recompression chamber became available. Unfortunately I had the most severe injury. I got trapped in the tower when the upper hatch opened at 500ft, started to panic (you are "narced up" [spaced out] with oxygen narcosis), the signalling hammer had got caught over the vent guard and with my positive buoyancy I couldn't get out.

I started to swallow air rather than breathing it [bad mistake]. I thought they were going to shut the hatch on me but managed to get free after about 40-45 seconds [bends for definitive at this depth]. I started to ascend, blowing out like a good 'un but had a severe and increasing pain in my stomach/chest area. I was well trained in this and couldn't suss what was happening, just kept trying to blow out more.

As I ascended my stomach (full of rapidly expanding air} split open internally, which, needless to say was bloody agony with still about 300ft to go. Of course the air was still in my body and still expanding, it compressed all my internals, lungs etc. and blew up my stomach/chest to bursting point. Very uncomfortable.

When I arrived on the surface I was picked up by my mate Mick O'Brien, he said he couldn't see me through the visor as it was covered in blood and vomit. I had a bit of a rep for messing about and Mick said my first words were "I'm not mucking about this time Mick, I've had it".

I was transferred to a RIB and taken to the support vessel and banged into the recompression chamber with a doctor and Mick for 6 hours. They blew the chamber down to 50 metres. I was in agony and the doc had no painkillers. They stripped the suit off me and when the doc saw my stretched stomach (like a Michelin Man'}, he stabbed me with a steel tube to release the air... what a relief... really felt great.

It was touch and go in the chamber, I was vomiting blood all the time and the doc was worried that I wouldn't see out my recovery time. They ordered a helo from Bergen Hospital and I was transferred there (kept below 900ft due to bends). I spent several weeks in intensive care, had 11 inches of internal stitching and about 8 inches externally, my stomach ended up a 1/4 of its original size due to the stitching...

Funny story... I was looking at the vital signs monitor one night and it just beeped and went to a straight line.... I thought this is it and kind of waited to die... it was the bloke in the next bed and I was looking at the wrong one!!

They left Baz Sines (ex Coxn who emigrated to Oz and sadly died a couple of years ago) to look after me. When I was on my feet he smuggled me in some clothes and we went for a beer!! Not surprisingly I collapsed and was brought back in an ambulance after 1/2 hour... but... you have to give it a go don't you!

I was eventually casivac'ed by Hercules to Haslar hospital. I continued instructing in the tank for another 2 or 3 years but didn't have the opportunity to take part in another escapex.


1 comment

the world record set in 1987 was completed by WO. Norman Cook MBE and PO. Hamish Jones BEM

Can't find any reference to this world record
   Hamish Jones Mon, 7 Aug 2017

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