Review of The Dive: The Untold Story of the World’s Deepest Submarine Rescue written by Stephen McGinty Rating *****
This book was released two years before the Titan submersible accident. It was the recent incident, however, that drew me to this book. Unlike the Titan accident, which was lost probably at the same time they lost communication with the surface, this submersible, the Pisces III, was resting on the seabed, some 1575 below the mother ship.
The world did not know the fate of the five people aboard the Titan for several days. I envisioned them sitting on the bottom next to the Titanic with no hope of rescue. There have been plenty of submarine accidents in which that very scenario has occurred – trapped men who find themselves in a situation where rescue just isn’t possible. That was the case of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk. In this case, the men inside the Pisces III submersible did have a possibility of rescue, but it was a small one.
If the rescue had gone exactly as planned, then there wouldn’t have been much of a story to tell. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, nothing about this rescue was easy. There was a time constraint. This was due to three life support systems that had a limited time of usefulness: oxygen, power, and a carbon dioxide scrubber. Deplete any one of those three and the two men inside the submersible would not survive.
The author provides just enough background information to set up the incident. Once the accident happens, it becomes a ticking bomb story. Since this was a small two-man submersible, the rescue could be accomplished by attaching a long enough rope to the sub and then winching it to the surface. But in order to do that, you had to have another submersible first locate the accident sub, and then attach the rope to the vehicle. All of those tasks proved to be extremely difficult under the weather conditions and time constraints they had to work with. There were a lot of similarities to the Apollo 13 story.
The author expertly weaves the narrative by switching from the trapped men to the rescuers and back again. Just like Apollo 13, you know how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.