In the 1990s, Boston built a sophisticated waste treatment plant on Deer Island that was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin. The state had been dumping barely treated sewage into the water for so long that Boston had America's filthiest harbor, with a layer of "black mayonnaise" coating the seafloor. Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as "beach whistles." But before the dumping could stop, a team of divers had to make a perilous journey to the end of a 10-mile tunnel - devoid of light and air - to complete the construction. Five went in, but not all of them came out.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, award-winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved in the tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments heading into the tunnel, sentencing one diver to death and the other to a trauma-induced drug addiction that eventually lands him in prison. Suspenseful yet humane, Trapped Under the Sea reminds us that behind every bridge, highway, and tunnel - behind the infrastructure that makes modern life possible - ies unsung bravery and extraordinary sacrifice.
SIX YEARS EARLIER
DJ pulled into the driveway, got out of his Ford Bronco, and stepped into what felt like a 1980s music video. Straight ahead was a sun-tanned brunette washing her car while wearing ripped jean shorts and a wet half-shirt. As he trained his eyes on her, DJ could practically hear the thumping hair-metal-band soundtrack playing in his head. Actually, it wasn't all in his head. There was music coming from around the back of the house, where someone had placed a speaker facing out of a first-floor window.
At a picnic table, three attractive women in their early twenties sat in Daisy Duke cutoffs and tight tops, drinking wine coolers and taking in the sun on a late summer afternoon. It was a Friday in August 1993, and DJ, a month shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, had just returned to Massachusetts after more than two years working as an offshore diver in the Gulf of Mexico. During his time away, his mother and younger brother had moved into the upstairs apartment of ...
Swidey, a reporter for The Boston Globe, intermixes engineering details and descriptions of the harrowing work along with stories from the workers’ colorful lives. The technical details are presented in a lucid style, easy enough for a non-technical reader to understand (well-illustrated diagrams help). While Swidey’s narrative (which took years to research) pays generous attention to the divers and their personal backgrounds, these wide-eyed back stories sometimes teeter on the edge of reading like cloying made-for-TV material.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1234 words).
Because the Boston Harbor cleanup required work underwater, a team of commercial divers was brought in. Trapped Under the Sea focuses primarily on these divers and the disastrous project that lead to two deaths.
Commercial diving includes both offshore and inland projects. Much offshore diving is connected with the oil industry, with divers working from rigs stationed offshore. Inland diving involves engineering projects - the building and maintenance of dams, bridges - in rivers and lakes etc. Welding and other construction work is pretty common in all kinds of commercial diving projects.
Since commercial diving involves working deep under water (even up to depths of 1,000 feet) specialized equipment is par for the course. A wet suit...
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