This silent U.S. Navy film, "SeaLab III Progress Report #2" documents the ill-fated SEALAB III experiment, in which aquanot Berry L. Cannon died. The film was likely shown as part of a U.S. Navy presentation, and would have had an accompanying script or commentary (now lost) read while it was projected. Some of the interesting segments in the film show the moving of the SeaLab habitat and its deployment, underwater assembly operations (7:25), and support operations. The converted LST USS Elk River (IX-501, ex LSM(R)-501) which served as a support ship for the program is shown at the 13:40 mark. It's unclear but it's possible that the sequence at 15:00 shows the end of the SeaLab III mission. (If you know more about this mission we'd love to hear from you!)
SEALAB I, II, and III were experimental underwater habitats developed by the United States Navy in the 1960s to prove the viability of saturation diving and humans living in isolation for extended periods of time. The knowledge gained from the SEALAB expeditions helped advance the science of deep sea diving and rescue, and contributed to the understanding of the psychological and physiological strains humans can endure.
SEALAB III used a refurbished SEALAB II habitat, but was placed in water three times deeper. Five teams of nine divers were scheduled to spend 12 days each in the habitat, testing new salvage techniques and conducting oceanographic and fishery studies. Preparations for such a deep dive were extensive. In addition to many biomedical studies, work-up dives were conducted at the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. These “dives” were not done in the open sea, but in a special hyperbaric chamber that could recreate the pressures at depths as great as 1,025 feet (312 m) of sea water.
According to John Piña Craven, the U.S. Navy's head of the Deep Submergence Systems Project of which SEALAB was a part, SEALAB III "was plagued with strange failures at the very start of operations". On February 15, 1969, SEALAB III was lowered to 610 feet (185 m) off San Clemente Island, California. The habitat soon began to leak and four divers were sent to repair it, but they were unsuccessful. During the second attempt, aquanaut Berry L. Cannon died, It was found that his rebreather was missing baralyme, the chemical necessary to remove carbon dioxide. Surgeon commander John Rawlins, a Royal Navy medical officer assigned to the project, also suggested that hypothermia during the dive was a contributing factor to the problem not being recognized by the diver.
According to Craven, while the other divers were undergoing the week-long decompression, repeated attempts were made to sabotage their air supply by someone aboard the command barge. Eventually, a guard was posted on the decompression chamber and the men were recovered safely. A potentially unstable suspect was identified by the staff psychiatrist, but the culprit was never prosecuted. Craven suggests this may have been done to spare the Navy bad press so soon after the USS Pueblo incident.
The SEALAB program came to a halt, and although the SEALAB III habitat was retrieved,] it was eventually scrapped. Aspects of the research continued in classified military programs, but no new habitats were built. NCEL (now a part of Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center) of Port Hueneme, California, was responsible for the handling of several contracts involving life support systems used on SEALAB III
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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD, 2k and 4k. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com