-   Science (
-   -   The Squeeze (

snopes 29 October 2007 06:08 PM

The Squeeze
Comment: My husband read me a passage of the book 'A Brief History of Everything'
by Ken Wilber 2 days ago which claimed that back in the early days of deep
sea diving, there was a phenomenon known as 'the squeeze'. The passage
said that it resulted from a catastrophic failure of the pressure
mechanism (or lack of) on the old diving suits, which caused the diver to
literally be sucked up into the hose and killed.

I don't have a problem with that, however the passage went on to say that
in some extreme cases, the suit would be brought to the surface and all
that was left of the unlucky diver was a couple of bones and a few shreds
of flesh. THAT is what I am having a hard time believing - it sounds to
me like something out of a cheezy horror movie. The passage ended with
the statement that some scientist stated he had actually witnessed this a
few times.

My husband is currently on a business trip with the book, otherwise I
would put the exact quote here. However, I was wondering if you had ever
heard of this story, and if it is true? My husband is convinced that its
for real, but I just can't believe that the extreme 'only bones left in
the suit' thing could ever really happen.

Kahdra 30 October 2007 07:26 AM

I have not read the book in question, but the scenario presented reminded me of the Byford Dolphin accident.

Penny 01 November 2007 11:55 PM

I'm fairly certain there's a passage of that nature in Bill Bryson's book "A Short History of Nearly Everything". I wonder if the original poster was confused? (Or if it's just me :-) )

hix1050 15 July 2009 07:53 AM

Classically, "squeeze" is a feature of hard-hat diving, and is a regular topic in books about marine salvage, as it is a constant threat to the diver. Rear Admiral Edward Ellsberg's books come to mind. See
Background for the "Standard diving dress" is at

There are two mechanisms for squeeze.

First, the air line supplying pressure to the diver's helmet fails catastrophically, and the pressure of the water abruptly extrudes the body of the diver into the helmet. The engineering solution to this is a check valve at the helmet, so while the story from 'A Brief History of Everything' may be partially true, and may well have occurred once or twice, I expect that it is mostly legendary now. That the diver's body would be completely extruded into the air line doesn't survive close inspection, as 1) the viscosity of the tissues is going make pushing them up the narrow line very difficult, 2) sooner or later a piece of bone would get jammed in the hole in the helmet where the air is exiting, and block it, and 3) the line may collapse under the water pressure, blocking it. The physics of the 'A Brief History of Everything' story cited here requires that the air line be intact and open all the way to the surface, and that the diver's remains be forced out on the surface, which would be a lot more noticeable than whatever remains they found when they pulled the suit up.

Second, and much more common, is that the diver, in zero-visibility conditions (which are quite frequent in diving salvage), walks into a hole or off the side of a sunken ship. Since the diver is weighted down to keep him in place, he immediately starts to sink, and as he sinks, the pressure of the water on his body goes up. If his line-tender is doing his job, keeping slack out of the air line, safety line, telephone line, etc., the diver gets squeezed a little, the line tender pulls him back up, and he gets on with the job. If the line tender has been sloppy and there is a lot of slack, the diver is squeezed harder, and depending on the drop, is anywhere from injured to extruded into his helmet like toothpaste.

Since the helmet is an expensive piece of equipment, somebody gets to remove the diver's remains from it. Traditionally, this job falls to the errant line-tender, and a spoon is the legendary tool for doing so. Normally, line-tenders are either divers or diver apprentices, and have been squeezed themselves, so they have complete apprehension of the problem. And as part of their training, their trainers make sure they hear all about squeeze, and the stories get embellished and take on legendary aspects, so it's hard to separate out the details, such as who, when, where, how, and why, which are buried in brief naval accident reports.

Squeeze is almost entirely avoidable, and catastrophic incidents are sufficiently gristly to make the news, so they don't seem to be very common.

I don't know how much pressure it would take to extrude a human body like toothpaste, but several atmospheres at least, and figure about 35 feet of seawater depth per atmosphere. Properly, this Snopes entry should be answered by someone well-acquainted with the medical diving literature. Pondering gadgets like meat grinders and the mechanical advantage required for them leads me to suspect that extrusion of a diver into his helmet is a sea story, although injury and death by squeeze are very real.

TwitcherStick 19 April 2011 06:11 PM

I know this is an old topic but I'd just to try and clarify something about the "squeeze"...
While diving there are multiple types of squeeze; ear, face, sinus, tooth, lung, stomach and last but far from least, suit squeeze. Out of them all (to my knowledge) suit and tooth squeeze are the only 2 that would not cause death, rather, lots and lots of pain.

In the scenario above, a diver could experience all of the squeezes combined but the body itself (for the most part) would not be compressed due to the water pressure. Ear, face, sinus and lung squeeze combined could cause the diver to vomit while the ears, nose, mouth and eyes bled. The mask squeeze could cause the eyes to bulge out of the head and if the valve gave way quick enough, cause the divers chest to be crushed to fill the air space in the lungs. If the diver had a buildup of gases in the intestines, they could also experience squeeze and possibly expulsion of the bowels through either the rectum or mouth.

Any way you look at it, you'd have a serious mess on your hands but I can't believe that a diver would be sucked up through the hose of the suit or have his/her entire body pulverized to just a few bones and mush due to the pressure.

All times are GMT. The time now is 11:27 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.