Underwater welder says there’s always risk when training new divers

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, a man in his 40s who was a student at commercial diving school CDA Technical Institute drowned Thursday in the Trout River while doing low visibility underwater welding training.

Alex Pierce, who’s an underwater welder, says this job can be difficult and somewhat dangerous.

“So you could have, you know, 60-70 pounds on you, when you’re on the surface,” he said. “You don’t really feel it as much when you’re underwater, but it can definitely get challenging, especially if you’re prone to being like claustrophobic or like situations that you can immediately take yourself out of.”

According to the incident report, the student diver told instructors through his radio that his dive helmet was filling with water.

He was told to try to vent the water through his mask, but then stopped communicating, and was found unresponsive. CPR efforts were unsuccessful.

Pierce said there’s typically something divers can do when water fills up their mask.

“So you have a valve,” he said. “And it also this depends on which kind of helmet you’re using. But most of the guys, the US has some sort of a valve where you can increase the flow of air into your helmet. So if there’s water filling up in your helmet, you can turn the valve on, press the air, presses the water out. And it also recirculate the air just to get fresh air like if you’re hyperventilating or something like that.”

Pierce says underwater welding is used on a lot of structures.

“I have done everything from hydroelectric dams,” he said. “You know, inspecting like the gates and replacing the gates even that allow the water to go into hydroelectric dams to spin the big turbines. I’ve worked at the amusement parks in Orlando Universal Studios and some at Disney doing inspections on like their pumps that pump water up into their water rides.”

The institute says on its website that it is a fully accredited diving program with on-campus housing with courses for commercial diving training lasting four months.

The course that the man was in is advanced, meaning he would have had some previous diver training.

The cause of the drowning was not immediately known. No foul play is suspected.

Pierce says there is a lot that can go wrong when you’re underwater welding.

“So by and large, I’d say it’s pretty safe,” he said. “But you know, you’re working with gases, with tubes (and hoses). There’s always the risk. And you’re dealing with a lot of pressure. So you can’t, if something’s wrong, like I was saying earlier, you can’t just immediately shoot to the surface.”