Kennedy Space Center
Sept. 12, 2002
KSC Team Rescues Distressed Diver
A Kennedy Space Center team helped rescue a diver in distress Wednesday, Sept. 11, using a recompression chamber on board Freedom Star, one of the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) retrieval ships, manned by United Space Alliance (USA) workers.
The diver, Jack Wilcox, 50, is in good condition and recovering in Florida Hospital Orlando after being airlifted from the Army dock at Port Canaveral. It is believed he suffered decompression sickness after ascending too quickly in an out-of-air emergency.
"I don't know what would have happened if they hadn't happened to be out there," Wilcox said from his hospital bed on Thursday. "Andy Fish (a USA SRB retrieval diver and diver medical technician) stayed with me inside the chamber the whole time working with me and reassuring me. The KSC folks were really great throughout the whole experience."
Wilcox and several friends were lobster diving at about 100 feet down on Pelican Flats about 20 miles off of Cape Canaveral, when Wilcox ran out of air. He approached his dive buddy and shared air to about 60 feet. Having difficulty getting enough air, Wilcox made a free ascent to the surface.
Wilcox experienced chest pain and difficulty breathing as the boat, Knot Content, headed into port. The group radioed the U.S. Coast Guard for help.
The Freedom Star team, who are a part of USA's SRB Element Marine Operations, heard the call for help and asked the Coast Guard if they could assist. The ship was out on a crane certification exercise and coincidentally had a diver medical technician and other divers training on the crane. The ship's divers were trained for the hyperbaric chamber on board.
"We only did what anyone would do," said Capt. Dave Fraine, "It's the law of the sea. You help when you can. We're just grateful to God we were able to help."
Jack Mullen, the USA retrieval supervisor aboard Freedom Star, said the diver DMT and team were able to help because of all the training they do to be able to assist one of their own in case of a dive accident during a retrieval mission. The hyperbaric chamber on board is used to help a diver suffering decompression sickness, too many nitrogen bubbles in the blood, which can cause injury or death if untreated.
"We are glad our training and capabilities could be of assistance to a member of the public. It was just by luck that we were in the middle of a training operation and were close enough with the right resources to be able to help," Mullen said.
Capt. Fraine, Mullen and their Freedom Star team scrambled to meet the Knot Content after the Coast Guard gave them the go ahead.
"The KSC folks were all lined up on board to grab me," Wilcox said. "Within a few seconds they had me in the chamber and Andy began to work with me taking my vital signs and doing what he could do to help me." The team was met by KSC Occupational Health doctor Skip Beeler, USA diver medical technicians to help with the chamber, and KSC firefighters and paramedics at the Army dock. The doctor entered the chamber and continued the process of helping to stabilize Wilcox. After several hours in the chamber, Wilcox, who lives in Orlando, was airlifted to Florida Hospital Orlando. "I didn't know if I was going to make it. It's a huge relief to be in the hospital recovering thanks to the KSC guys," Wilcox said.
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