On July 21, 1999, a crane lowered experienced construction diver DJ Gillis and four other men down a 420-foot shaft to the opening of an almost 10-mile tunnel beneath Deer Island in Boston Harbor. At the end of the day, only three men would return alive.
In a compelling tale of corporate and public mismanagement, Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey tells the gripping stories of courage, deceit and devastating loss that emerged from the Deer Island debacle in Trapped Under the Sea.
After Boston Harbor was rated one of the most polluted in the nation, public officials launched a $300 million project in the early 1990s to pipe wastewater through a tunnel to the ocean. In spite of significant early progress, work on the tunnel eventually bogged down. By the time Gillis and his co-workers were hired to unplug a series of smaller pipes, the companies that built the tunnel had all but abandoned it, raising many questions. “How could this idea of sending divers to a place as remote as the moon, asking them to entrust their lives to an improvised, untested breathing system, have ever made sense to sensible people?” Swidey asks. “The answer,” he points out, “lies in the dangerous cocktail of time, money, stubbornness, and frustration near the end of the over-budget, long delayed job.”
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Swidey pulls us into the lives of the divers and the aftermath of the perfect storm of forces that led to the deaths of two of them. He chronicles the psychological trauma into which the three surviving divers spiral, emphasizing that no matter how the tunnel project was successfully completed, “no one came out of this feeling like a winner.”
In this compelling page-turner, Swidey grabs us as soon as we enter that narrow elevator shaft and never lets up as we accompany the men on their sad and frightening journey.