On July 12th, 2015, Christopher Le Cun, a scuba diver and resident of South Florida, was boating, swimming and scuba diving with friends and family near the St. Lucie nuclear power plant.
While swimming, Le Cun and his friend Robert Blake found three massive barnacle-covered structures underneath the surface that were visible from the above of 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 underwater 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 in front of his friend.
Robert Blake, the second diver that day, thought he had watched his friend die in front of him. He quickly turned around and raced to the surface where he yelled at Le Cun’s wife in the boat. Le Cun’s wife called 911 and began trying to explain what had happened to her husband.
Deep underwater, Le Cun was tumbling through the intake pipe at a rate of nearly 7 feet per second – which is 16 feet across and nearly a quarter-mile long. As the water travels through the pipe it gets more turbulent.
Scuba diving can be very dangerous if the diver loses control of their depth, air supply, movement and other critical factors while they are underwater – but the force of the water was compounding Le Cun’s fears.
“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” Le Cun would later tell reporters, “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.”
As Le Cun travelled through the pipes he finally saw a faint glimmer of light that got larger and brighter the closer he approached. He was finally deposited in the intake channel at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant that is used to condense the steam for the turbine, where he quickly flagged down a worker. The worker was astonished and mystified as to how this diver had ended up in the reservoir.
The first thought Le Cun had was to notify his family that he was ok. He borrowed one of the plant worker’s phones and called his wife until she picked up.
Le cun has filed a lawsuit against Florida Power and Light, the utility that operates the nuclear power plant.
A statement from Florida Power and Light, the operator of the St. Lucie nuclear power plant said, “Nothing is more important safety at our St. Lucie nuclear power plants, which is a reason that we have a protective over the intake piping. The diver intentionally swam into one of the intake pipes after bypassing a piece of equipment to minimize the entry of objects.”
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 that 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.