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National Geographic diver dies from the bends

A top diver has died while filming the wreck of the sister ship of the Titanic on an exploratory mission for National Geographic magazine.

The 37-year-old, named by the Greek merchant marine ministry as Carl Spencer, is believed to have suffered from decompression sickness, the bends.

The fatal condition can occur when divers surface too quickly and nitrogen bubbles form in their blood.

Spencer was part of a National Geographic crew exploring the Britannic, which sank in the Aegean Sea in 1916. A military helicopter flew him to Greece’s naval hospital in Athens where he was pronounced dead.

The diver, who has led a number of high-profile wrecks explorations had been on board the Belgian-owned research vessel CDT Fourcault.

“A Super Puma rescue helicopter was dispatched to collect the diver who was unconscious with decompression sickness symptoms,” said a spokeswoman from the Greek ministry. “He did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.”

The National Geographic team had permission to film the wreck of the Britannic from 19-31 May, the spokeswoman added. No one from the magazine was available for immediate comment.

The diving mission comes amid efforts by the Britannic Foundation, headed by British businessman Simon Mills, to preserve the ship. Foundation member Mark Chirnside said: “I understand there is an expedition going on at the moment. I think it’s about 120 metres down and so it’s quite a tough dive and you need really qualified people to go down.”

Spencer’s team was to spend nine days doing an internal and external analysis of the wreckage. He led a similar expedition to the Britannic in 2003.

Following the sinking of the Titanic in April, 1912, the hull of its 53,000-tonne sister ship was redesigned and it was launched on 26 February 1914.

On its sixth trip, on its way to pick up wounded soldiers from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, it was sunk on 21 November 1916 when it hit a mine. Of the 1,066 passengers aboard, 30 died.

The Diving Legends website lists Spencer as one of the world’s most accomplished divers. “Carl Spencer has been involved in and led expeditions to HMHS Britannic, still considered the benchmark expedition dive in the industry, and co-led joint military expeditions with the Royal Navy and British Army.

“His Britannic expedition in 2003 was successful in locating and documenting the open water-tight doors and proved why she sank so fast. His team also located the minefield which she sailed through that caused the fatal damage.”

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