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March 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Florida Diver Sucked into Pipe Brings Suit

from the March, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Last July, Christopher Le Cun, a scuba diver and resident of South Florida, was boating and scuba diving with friends and family near the St. Lucie nuclear power plant. Le Cun and his friend, Robert Blake, found three massive barnacle-covered structures underneath the surface that were visible from above the water. There was a buoy in the water, seemingly marking the shallow water for passing boats. Since there were no obvious warnings posted, the diving friends swam down to investigate the odd finding.

"I swam right up to this big structure and it looks like a building underwater. I felt a little bit of current. All of a sudden it got a little quicker, and I said this ain't right, this ain't right," said Le Cun.

The St. Lucie nuclear power plant gets cooling water from a canal system that is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by three underwater intake pipes. There is no grating over the mouth of the intake pipe, and the force of 500,000 gallons of water per second rushing into the pipes pulled Le Cun into the intake. Blake thought he had watched his friend die in front of him. He raced to the surface where he yelled at Le Cun's wife in the boat, and she called 911 and began trying to explain what had happened to her husband.

Deep underwater, Le Cun was tumbling through the intake pipe -- which is 16 feet across and nearly a quarter mile long -- a rate of nearly seven feet per second. As the water travels through the pipe, it gets more turbulent.

Le Cun told Jared Werksma of WPTV in West Palm Beach, "I kind of felt like I got sucked over a waterfall and just instantly complete darkness. I was getting tumbled around and around. I'm trying to hold onto my mask and my regulator. I finally get ahold of my light and I'm trying to look around. As far as you can see, it's just black . . . . I knew something was drawing all this water. All I could think about was these horror movies, you know, this big turbine coming and I'm coming for it. You know, it's going to chop me up and kill me . . . . I contemplated, you know, do I just pull the regulator out of my mouth and just die? I started thinking about my family, you know, how are they going to survive without me?" Then he saw the light. "It looks like a match, out in the distance, just the littlest bit of what you've ever seen. When it gets a little bigger, then a little bigger. Then all of a sudden just, poof, daylight. Fish everywhere, crystal-clear water, the sun is shining and I'm like, 'is this heaven?'"

After nearly a five-minute ride, Le Cun was finally in the intake channel at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant that is used to condense the steam for the turbine. He flagged down a worker and then borrowed a phone to call his wife.

Le Cun has filed a lawsuit against Florida Power and Light, the utility that operates the nuclear power plant.

This is not the first time that a diver has been sucked into the intake at St. Lucie. In 1989, William Lamm was scuba diving and spearfishing near the water intake, when he, too, was sucked in. "It was darker than any dark I've ever seen, and I tried to hold my arms in front of me for balance, but I tumbled and bounced all over the sides of the pipe."

It took nearly four minutes before Lamm was deposited in a canal at St. Lucie, where he was found by a security guard who saw him surface.

Lamm reported that the force of the water was so strong that it pulled off his mask and diving gloves and even ripped out his mouthpiece several times, threatening to drown him in the fast-moving flow of water.

From reports in Enformable Nuclear News and KPTV

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