Thursday, June 04, 2009

Carl Spencer: Modest Professional

Last week the UK-based Telegraph released Carl Spencer's obituary, which we think does a good job at encompassing for all that he lived.

Carl Spencer, who has died aged 39, was one of the world's most accomplished deep-wreck divers and led several high-profile explorations of famous wrecks, including that of Titanic; he was killed in a diving accident during an underwater filming mission exploring Titanic's sister ship, Britannic.

Although best known as a talented technical diver with a glamorous career in the oceans of the world, Spencer also followed a more workaday calling as a heating and air conditioning engineer based in the Midlands. A modest, self-effacing man, he invariably told people that he was "just a plumber from Cannock".

This spring he was part of a 17-strong crew commissioned by National Geographic magazine to dive on Britannic, which sank in the Aegean Sea, off Greece, in 1916. The wreck lies on its starboard side in 120 metres of water and is well-preserved.

The diving mission was part of efforts by the Britannic Foundation, headed by a British historian and businessman, Simon Mills, to convert her into an underwater tourist attraction by running tours in mini-submarines.

Spencer's team was due to spend nine days on an internal and external analysis of the wreck, first discovered by the French explorer Jacques Cousteau in 1975. A veteran of three expeditions to Britannic, Spencer made his first dive on the wreck six years ago, uncovering evidence that the ship had been sunk by a mine rather than a torpedo, a question that had long divided historians.

Some had believed that she was attacked for carrying weapons while being disguised as a hospital ship. Survivors spoke of seeing torpedo trails in the water, in which case the Germans would have committed a war crime by attacking a hospital ship.

But Spencer favoured the theory of a mine explosion – a view reinforced when his team discovered debris entangled in mine anchors laid in the Kea channel of the Aegean.

Spencer found that when Britannic was mined, the ship's watertight doors had been open, allowing water to flood through; she sank in less than an hour, much faster than Titanic. He became the first diver to find and film the doors which, with the lower portholes, had been left open because it was so hot below decks.

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Our thoughts and prayers remain with Spencer's family and friends.

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