Thursday, September 24, 2009

Old-school: Wreck Divers Don 1940s-style Equipment

Some wreck divers off Long Island recently donned some old-school gear to try out diving from the earlier days.

Clad in a massive antique bronze helmet and weights, Bill Pfeiffer was the kind of diver the fish had not seen in decades.

But those extra 200 pounds did nothing to stop last Wednesday's heavy ocean swell from flicking him back down to a shipwreck, his air bubbles rising from the sea floor.

"The line that I'm on is strumming like a banjo string," Pfeiffer recalled of his experience climbing back from a dive on the Black Warrior wreck using 1940s-vintage hardhat diving gear. "It snapped again and tossed me off. I told the deck crew, "I'm off the rope, and I'm on my way back to the bottom.' "

Pfeiffer was safe inside a U.S. Navy Mark V helmet made in 1943, a system so reliable that the Navy used essentially the same equipment from 1917 to 1979, said Bob Rusnak of the Historical Diving Society.

"Right after World War II you could by them for $100. They were surplus. Now they'll cost you $8,000," Rusnak said of the iconic bronze diver helmets. "The Mark V is one of the safest dive systems ever made. With the umbilical air supply, he could have stayed down there for two days."

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