Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Crisis on the K13: World's first technical-innovation rescue (1917)

For a recent speaking engagement, wanting to feature a high-performance team in action, I devoted the second half of my talk to the emergency aboard the British steam-powered submarine K13. This year is the hundredth anniversary.

Here's a PDF of that section of my PowerPoint

Quick thinking, persistence, and mechanical innovation spanning less than 48 hours saved a majority of the crew from the sunken craft, which had quickly filled with smoke from electrical fires and then was slowly filling with seawater from leaks through bulkheads. Here's a drawing from a survivor, showing the huge sub's position after sinking:

As far as I know, the rescue in the Gareloch was the first "Apollo-13-style" effort in history, seeing mechanical innovation under great time pressure. Some noteworthy rescues preceded this event (from train wrecks, mine collapses, and building fires), but didn't feature the on-the-spot techno-creativity demonstrated here.