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A Few Good Men? Actually, Two

One of the world’s most elite clubs just doubled its membership. On May 16, 2003, Expedition Leader Pat Hickey made his 500th dive in the Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin, becoming just the second pilot to make that many dives in the 39 years of the submersible’s operation.

Hickey completed the milestone dive during an expedition to the “Lost City” hydrothermal vent field along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (see Lost City Expedition). On Alvin dive #3881, Hickey submerged to 890 meters depth (2,900 feet) with Chief Scientist Debbie Kelley and doctoral student Mausmi Metha, both of the University of Washington. During a break in the six hours of underwater work, the group placed a special marker on the huge “Poseidon” hydrothermal vent structure to commemorate the dive. They returned to the deck of R/V Atlantis and were greeted with a traditional dousing with a bucket of ice water.

Hickey never thought he would stick around long enough to see this day. “I started with Woods Hole as a break from my career as a submersible pilot, ROV operator, and occasional commercial diver in the oil and gas industry,” he said. “I had only intended to stay for five years, a sort of sabbatical before I returned to that career. But the people I’ve met and places I’ve seen have extended that sabbatical indefinitely.”

“Over the past 15 years I have seen some of the most spectacular submerged sights in the world,” Hickey added, recalling his many pioneering visits to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Endeavour Ridge (in the Northeast Pacific), and the East Pacific Rise. “All have left impressions with me.”

In the 39 years that Alvin has gone to sea, only one other pilot has made more than 500 dives. In March 1996, WHOI Research Specialist Dudley Foster became the first member of the 500-dive club. Out of the 34 people who have piloted Alvin, Foster and Hickey have now made more than one quarter of all the dives through May 2003.

Hickey has spent more time underwater-at least 150 days of cumulative dive time, seated on a padded box--than most astronauts have spent in space. So how does he feel after all that time in a six-foot-diameter sphere?

“My back is extremely sore!”

Originally published: June 1, 2003