David escaped from an underwater tank on a live broadcast of the Dutch primetime television show ‘Jensen’. As the headline act on the Netherlands most popular talk show, David was in for a rough evening.
After completing a live interview, followed by a suffocation escape (which saw David being strapped into a prisoner restraint belt and sealed in an airtight plastic bag); David put on his wetsuit and headed outside the studio to take on what turned out to be an extremely dangerous challenge. A live underwater escape, with David chained, padlocked and weighted down with 14kg’s of diving ballast (enough to sink him like a stone) and with no hope of surfacing unless he could remove it.
The tank used was a portable scuba training tank, nine feet deep, and containing 20,000 litres of water. It had taken three hours to fill using fire hoses and looked very impressive standing outside the studio entrance.
It was an especially cold day, so cold in fact that at one point the plastic lining in the water tank had started to crack and needed to be patched before it could continue to be filled. As the night wore on things just got colder. Earlier in the day the water had been measured at just two degrees centigrade, and had left the studio phoning contacts for miles around to try and locate a large supply of hot water to bring that temperature up a little, but with no luck. By the time the stunt went ahead things were running late, and it was almost 10 pm. Ice was starting to form around the tank, by this time the water temperature had dropped to freezing point. David had been given the option of cancelling the stunt, but decided to go ahead, a decision he now realises was a mistake.
“As soon as I stepped outside the studio I could see that I had a big problem. The air temperature had dropped substantially, and I started to wonder just how cold the water would be. As it turned out I had every reason to be concerned. After I had been restrained I nodded to my safety diver, who was charged with coming in after me if I did not emerge after a reasonable time (luckily for him he was wearing a proper winter wetsuit!). I then carefully climbed the steps. After waiting for a moment for the nod from the director I jumped in.
Immediately on hitting the water I knew I was in big trouble. The freezing cold instantly took away every ounce of energy I had and I immediately lost most of the feeling in my Extremities. I also began to lose consciousness. I only had a summer ’shorty’ wetsuit to protect me from the cold, and quite frankly I may as well have not bothered with it for all the good it was doing.
There was no show-boating with this escape. I had to get out, and fast, or the only thing between me and drowning would be the safety diver. Even then hypothermia was very likely. It took everything I had to escape the restraints. Once I had dropped the chain I tried to surface, but was held down by the divers weight belt. This should be pretty easy to remove under normal circumstances, but with the feeling in my hands now gone I had to locate the release catch with my wrist and push it open as best I could that way. This probably took no more than 10 more seconds, but it felt a lot longer, and I knew at this point that every second was the difference between life and death. Feeling the weight finally drop and knowing I was going to make it was a great feeling.
I regularly subject myself to cold water conditions to prepare for situations like this, I think this training is the only reason why I didn’t black out immediately on hitting the water. I should have cancelled this escape when I was given the option, not doing so was a huge mistake. But it’s just not in my nature to do so.
The studio people were wonderful under the circumstances. Within seconds of me emerging from the tank they had started to wrap me in warm towels, lots of them, and immediately rushed me to a warm dressing room, with a hot shower and a never ending supply of hot coffee.
It was almost an hour before I stopped shivering, and even longer before I could feel my thumbs and toes, all of which were completely numb.
About ninety minutes after the escape I felt well enough to join the show staff and presenter for food (I rarely eat before shows, so I am usually pretty hungry after them) they also brought out a few bottles of expensive champagne which the studio keeps on hand for guests, not something I have drank much of in my life. It’s always nice to be treated like a star, especially when you don’t feel like one!
There are many things that can go wrong with an underwater escape, not least of which is drowning. For a skilled EA, with a good safety diver, and a well contained escape this risk is dramatically lowered. With this in place it is easy to forget that there are other issues to contend with. Being pinned at the bottom of subzero water under these circumstances can cause hypothermia in seconds, it can cause damage to the extremities, the organs and the brain. It even has the potential to shock the heart to the degree that it stops instantly.”
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