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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 October, 2004, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Diver saves submariner's life
Leading Diver Garth Spence
Garth Spence later met the crew member he saved
A Royal Navy diver has told how he plunged into the Atlantic to save the life of a Canadian submariner.

A wave knocked the man into the water as rescuers battled to attach a tow line to HMCS Chicoutimi, which was left drifting after a fire on board.

Leading Diver Garth Spence said the man was prevented from floating clear by a safety harness and became trapped.

So he jumped into the water and cut the submariner free - then gave him "a big hug" and said he was going to be okay.

One crew member died and two others were injured after the blaze struck HMCS Chicoutimi about 100 miles off Ireland, on Tuesday.

Rescue operation

Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose was the first vessel to reach the submarine, arriving almost 24 hours after the alarm was raised.

Its commanding officer, Commander Andy Webb, said the rescue operation had been a "remarkable example of team work".

"There will be enormous acts of bravery and heroism coming out over the next few days," he said.

They included the rescue performed by Mr Spence, who recalled the incident on Sunday as the submarine arrived back in Faslane.

I was lucky to grab hold of him because the waves were knocking me about
Leading Diver Garth Spence

He was acting as safety swimmer when the Canadian was swept into the water.

"The problem was rigging the tow on the submarine, with waves crashing sometimes four or five feet above the casing," he said.

"There were crew members on the deck, when a wave came over the front of the submarine and one of them was washed onto the port side.

"He was tethered to the casing using a safety harness which prevented him from floating clear and his feet became trapped under the casing.

"I had to get in and cut him free so I put my flippers on and jumped in."

Floated clear

He was able to grab hold of the submariner, who told Mr Spence to cut him free and added: "I think I only have two breaths left."

The diver was able to cut the Canadian free using his knife and they floated clear of the submarine.

The diver said: "I just sat down next to him and gave him a big hug and told him he was going to be all right.

"He was very panicky, he was scared. I was lucky to grab hold of him because the waves were knocking me about."

Commander Andy Webb
It has been a remarkable team effort, but there have been some notable acts of heroism
Commander Andy Webb
Mr Spence said that adrenaline took over during the operation, which was carried out in "very dangerous" conditions.

"I don't ever remember thinking about my own safety," he said.

"I was there to act as a safety swimmer and we needed one in this instance.

"It was something that I had never experienced before. It saved lives, so I was glad I was there."

He later met the man on board.

"We shook hands and he said thanks," he recalled.

"We didn't speak about it much. It's hard to speak about these things, but he was a nice lad and I think he was very, very grateful."

Commander Webb said the conditions were some of the worst he had experienced in his naval career.

Crew members approach Faslane
The submarine arrived back at Faslane on Sunday
He headed the task group for the rescue operation, which also involved three frigates, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, coastguards, a dozen helicopters and a US submarine support vessel.

"There has been very close operation between British and Canadian forces," he added.

"It has been a remarkable team effort, but there have been some notable acts of heroism."

He said that these included the rescue by Mr Spence and the actions of the helicopter crew from HMS Gannet, who managed to get the three injured crew off the submarine.

"They showed an amazing feat of flying skills," he said.

He said that there was now a growing sense of relief - although it was tinged with sadness at the death of 32-year-old Lieutenant Chris Saunders.

Stricken sub nearing naval base
10 Oct 04  |  Scotland
Canada defends submarine fleet
07 Oct 04  |  Americas
Crewman dies after submarine fire
07 Oct 04  |  Scotland
Rescue ship reaches sub crew
07 Oct 04  |  Scotland

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