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Preface to Into the Lion's Mouth



It was at this point that I began talking about a fatal "lost bell" diving accident that occurred the year I arrived in the North Sea. It was known throughout the industry as the Wildrake (Wil-drake) accident because it was named after the ship upon which it occurred. I related to Jack what I could from fragments of memory. The bell had gone into the water with Richard Walker and Skip Guiel (Geel) inside and during the dive something went wrong which prevented the crew from recovering it. The bell was ultimately set on the seabed in more than 500 feet of water with the two divers trapped inside. To make matters worse, the life-support umbilical had been destroyed—how I didn't know—but without hot water to keep them warm, it would be a matter of hours before they froze to death. What followed was a race against time to save the two men.

But the attempted rescue took too long, and by the time they pulled the bell out of the water, Richard and Skip had died of hypothermia. This was all I could relate to Jack that night because I never talked to any of the divers involved; didn't know the deceased, and after 12 years I couldn't remember the name of the diving company. Nor did I know why the rescue had failed. I merely knew it was a seminal moment in the history of North Sea diving and that it had a profound impact upon the way divers viewed safety.

When I finished talking, Jack was impressed by the story and suggested I try to publish it.

That was 1991.

As the months slipped by I thought occasionally about Richard and Skip. And then, for reasons I still don't fully understand, these thoughts snowballed into nightly visions of them trapped inside the bell on the bottom of the sea, slowly freezing to death. And every time I saw them the overriding question I had was—What are they saying to each other?

In 1979 when I first learned about the accident I had no bell diving experiences to draw from to fully appreciate the kind of nightmare these men had gone through. The only impact the accident had upon me was it hammered into my head the reality that I had just entered a world where people were actually getting killed on the job, something I'd never consciously considered while going through dive school.

But in 1991 I had thousands of hours in saturation and hundreds of dives behind me. I knew about the crippling cold and the risks and the faith one had to have in his supervisors to continue climbing into the bell for the next dive. I knew more than enough to know what Richard and Skip must have gone through. This is why my conversation with Jack had a kind of auspicious quality to it and perhaps why my mind began to dwell on their ordeal.

Months turned into years and still the images that came unsolicited refused to go away. By the end of 1993 I was haunted and knew I had to do something to put an end to these nightly visitations. In a way I suppose I used my own fantasies to carry Jack's idea forward. Sport diving was something familiar to the general public, but the type of diving done in the North Sea was virtually unknown. Perhaps the subject of deep-sea diving was, in and of itself, compelling enough to merit description.

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Lion's Mouth Publishing, LLC.

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