Tragedy on National Geographic ‘Britannic’ Expedition


To read about the death of a diver is always a humbling experience.
To hear that a person did not surface from a dive adds fear to that experience.
To know that the person involved was a member of a team, a team which involved someone we know personally makes the experience all the more sad – and adds a little heartbreak.

Our friend (Instructor/Mentor) Pete Mesley has been in Greece with an National Geographic expedition to film the ‘Britannic’.
The Britannic was British World War I hospital ship, and sister ship of the Titanic, which sank off the Greek Aegean island of Kea in 1916 after hitting a mine, with the loss of 30 lives.

Carl Spencer, a member of his National Geographic team exploring the wreckage of Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship, in the Aegean Sea died of a suspected case of decompression sickness on Sunday. His team was to spend nine days doing an internal and external analysis of the wreckage.  Spencer had led a similar expedition to the Britannic in 2003.

Following the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, the hull of the 53,000-ton Britannic was redesigned and it was launched on Feb. 26, 1914.  It was never used as a commercial trans-Atlantic liner because of World War I.
It was requisitioned as a hospital ship in November 1915 and sent to the Middle East and Aegean fronts.
On its sixth trip, on its way to pick up wounded soldiers from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, it was sunk on Nov. 21, 1916. Of the 1,066 passengers aboard, 30 died.
For years, the cause of Britannic’s sinking — whether by a torpedo or a mine — was unclear.
Spencer’s 2003 expedition provided conclusive evidence of a single mine blast.

Spencer had been leading a crew from National Geographic around the wreckage off the Greek island of Kea when he suddenly released his emergency buoy, said Dr Panayiotis Bouras, a spokesman for the project.  When he was brought to the surface he showed symptoms of the illness.
A military helicopter flew him to Greece’s naval hospital in Athens but he did not regain consciousness.  As leader of the dive team, it was Spencer’s job to ensure the safety of the other people in the water, said Bouras.

The book, Diving with Legends, lists Spencer as one of the world’s most accomplished divers.
He also took part in pioneering decompression research.  He had led a number of high-profile underwater expeditions.
He also co-founded EuroTek, a conference for diving technologies, and was a well-known speaker.
His latest mission was working with the Britannic Foundation, which wants to preserve the ship.

My thoughts go out to Carl Spencers family and friends.
My thoughts are also with those who were diving with him on this expedition – and their family and friends who will be awaiting their safe return.