In 1962, Dan Wilson successfully completed a dive to 400 feet breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen. This dive was the catalyst for the expansion of deep-water diving in the commercial diving industry. At the time, all diving outside the U.S. Navy was done with divers breathing compressed air. Wilson thought that with helium he could extend the bottom time at 200 feet from the 20 minutes on air to a full hour on Oxygen and Helium. He needed to demonstrate a deep dive to gain the trust of the oil companies. He collaborated with Santa Barbara Radiator Shop to modify his Japanese abalone helmet and on November 3, 1962, with his new make-shift equipment Dan made his 400 ft. demonstration dive. Phillips Petroleum decided to give Dan's company General Offshore Diver, a chance for diving support on a drilling vessel. Against considerable odds, he and his team succeeded. Two years later, General Offshore became the core of the world’s first commercial diving company.
In order to better allow divers to perform long deep-sea missions, Wilson invented a piece of dive gear known as a commercial diving bell, a kind of underwater elevator that brings divers to great depths while staying dry.
This led to another problem though: The dive gear was too bulky for the divers to fit comfortably into the bell.
In 1965, Bob Kirby and Bev Morgan solved the problem by developing sleeker equipment. To this day, the Santa Barbara-based Kirby Morgan Dive Systems is the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial diving gear.
Tomorrow, November 9th, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will be opening an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first commercial Oxygen-Helium dive performed by Dan Wilson.
This model which includes the original gear, will be part of the exhibit. Dan Wilson Jr. will be the honarary guest at the opening.