TID 97 Sinking

On 29 December 1962, at approximately 17:00 hours, Admiralty Police called at the house of HM Chatham Dockyard diver R. Willing, requesting him to attend a tug boat sinking in Number Three Basin. Three members of the crew were missing, believed drowned. This is his personal account of the disaster.

"On arrival at the scene, I found the diving boat in position, having been towed by hand around from the far side of the basin by the diving crew, in very heavy weather, wind and rain.

The boat was underwater, being suspended beneath the surface by wire hawsers fastened to dockyard capstans. The capstans could not lift the vessel or lower it to the basin bottom. The officer in charge said that the diver should go under TID 97 to investigate the situation. As I was the diver, I replied that there was no way I would dive under the tug as it was too dangerous - the hawsers were swinging with the strain of the weight and could break at any time.

I dived down to the vessel and searched around the topside. On surfacing, I advised that the wires should be cut, to allow the vessel to sink to the basin bottom. No further action was taken by the diving team. During the night the hawsers broke and the tug settled to the bottom.

The following day (December 30th) I again dived on the tug and broke through the bridge glass and found the skipper inside. I informed the surface crew and we secured his body and lifted him out to a waiting ambulance. Over the next few days the tug was lifted and pumped out by the 'Swin' lifting craft. Accompanied by diver A. Cotton, I searched the tug and found two more bodies, one in the engine room and the other in the crew mess.

We were told not to touch the bodies until the doctor had declared them dead. As they had been underwater for several days, this seemed a bit much! We asked the doctor to come aboard and carry out the examinations required. He declined, so we set about removing their bodies. The man in the engine room was trapped upside down between the machinery, we had to cut the handrails to get access, and he was lifted out by crane, as was the second man.

On behalf of the diving crew, I would like to say thank you for all the help given to us by the dockyard services during this very sad event, and record our commiserations to the bereaved families of the three members of the crew who perished that fateful night."

R. L. Willing B.E.M.
Shipwright Diver

Contributed by Robbie Neale