Buried At Sea
Cold ocean water splashed against the porthole in Ed Christiansen’s diving helmet, momentarily obscuring his view of the Baxter, the derrick barge that was his base of operations. Gentle waves disturbed the ocean’s surface. The sun beat down upon the diving crew assembled on the barge’s deck to assist Ed as he prepared to descend to the ocean floor.
As his view cleared, Ed waved to the crew while he finished the final adjustments to his air hose. Tugging on the hose and the communication cable that connected him to the barge, Ed thought how small and fragile the hose seemed as it trailed over the massive barge’s deck and into the water.
Once he slipped below the ocean surface, that hose would be the only thing keeping him alive. The thought sent a shiver through Ed whenever he dove, and he always said a short prayer before he descended.
His preparations complete, Ed let go of the ladder and began his descent to the ocean bottom, 35 feet below. Another day’s work had begun.
Ed had started this cable-laying job several days before, and he had only 10 more feet to go on the trench he was blasting in the ocean floor. The job should have been done several weeks ago, but the crew that originally laid the telephone cables at this site off Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, had accidentally laid them at a depth of 30 feet below the ocean’s surface instead of 35 feet, as required by marine law.
Ed had been called on to fix the problem. In order to do this he had to use a pressure hose to blast the trench five feet deeper and then re-lay the cables. It was a rather routine assignment, and the job had gone fairly quickly. Ed was looking forward to finishing it and having a few days off to relax.
Standing between two walls of thick mud, Ed skillfully maneuvered the pressure hose, blasting the trench deeper into the ocean bottom. He’d done this so many times he could almost do it without thinking. As he worked, Ed let his thoughts drift, contemplating again how he had come to be here, doing this job that he loved so much.
Ed had been born in Oslo, Norway, and had experienced a normal childhood till his parents suddenly died when he was 7. After that he’d been placed with a foster family, but he’d never felt as though he was really wanted by his foster parents. After 10 unhappy years he’d taken a job on a ship sailing to the United States.
It was in America that he’d met his wife, Clara. Their happy home was soon blessed by a baby, then another, and another.
Finally, with six hungry children to feed, Ed had taken a job as a tender to a diver. Eventually he became a diver himself. Diving was hard, dangerous work, but Ed had grown to love it. There was something about the silent majesty of the world beneath the waves that appealed to him in a special way.
It’s kind of funny, Ed had often thought, but it’s here at the bottom of the ocean that I feel the closest to God.
A sudden shift in the mud under his boots startled Ed from his daydreaming. He looked up just in time to see the wall of the trench collapse. Before he could move, tons of mud and 18 four-inch telephone cables crashed down on top of him, burying him 35 feet below the ocean’s surface.
When the mud finally stopped moving, Ed was surprised to find himself still alive. He had come to rest upside down in the mud, his knees against his chest and the lead weights around his waist digging into his abdomen. His right arm was pinned, but thankfully his left arm was near his chest so he could reach his air valve. He could feel the air hose wrapped around his ankle, but he knew it wasn’t kinked, because he could still hear the sound of air hissing into his helmet. Thank You, God, he prayed.
As he tried to figure out what to do next, Ed suddenly felt cold salt water streaming down his arm. Oh no! My glove is ripped, he thought, panic squeezing at his heart as he felt his dive suit starting to fill with water.
Frantically he felt for the air valve and twisted it fully open. Precious air poured into his suit, equalizing the pressure and preventing any further water from getting in.
Lying upside down in the cold darkness, tons of mud pressing on his chest, one thought kept pounding through Ed’s brain: I’m going to die. He thought about his beautiful wife and his precious children. How will they survive without me? What will happen to them?
But as these terrible thoughts threatened to overwhelm him, he suddenly felt God close to him. There in the mud, his life hanging in the balance, he realized he was not alone. A gentle peace slowly filled his mind, and he began to pray.
At that moment Ed heard Frank Sorenson, the barge’s captain, calling to him through the helmet speaker, “Hang on; we’ll have you free soon. The divers are on their way.”
Ed’s heart leaped with joy at the sound of Frank’s voice. For a while he began to think he might actually make it out of this alive. But as the hours passed, he began to lose hope again. The pain and fear were too much, and Ed fainted.
After several minutes of unconsciousness Ed heard a distant voice calling him. “Christiansen—Ed Christiansen!”
“Yes?” Ed finally responded.
“Two of the best divers from the Navy school are on their way down. Hold on!”
Too late! Ed thought in despair. Too late!
Convinced he was going to die, Ed summoned his last bit of strength and called over the telephone to Captain Sorenson: “Look after my family, OK? Tell them I love . . .” He fainted again before he could finish the sentence.
A short time later a strange sensation startled Ed back to consciousness. He was moving upward.
This feels nice, he thought. I’m floating! Then he passed out again.
The next thing Ed heard was a child’s happy voice shouting, “You’re OK, Daddy! You’re OK!”
Opening his eyes, Ed found himself lying on the barge’s deck, his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, hovering over him, a big grin stretched across her pretty face. “Oh, Daddy, I prayed and prayed. I knew God would take care of you!”
Gathering his daughter in his arms, Ed felt tears of joy spilling down his cheeks. For four hours he’d been buried in a dark trench on the ocean floor, but he was alive!
As willing hands carried him to the decompression chamber, where he would spend the next few hours to prevent the “bends,” Ed stared up at the beautiful blue sky he had thought he would never see again. Quietly he whispered, “Thank You, God. Thank You so much!”