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Paria diving tragedy survivor Christopher Boodram is emotional during his testimony at the commission of enquiry hearing at Tower D, International Waterfront, Port of Spain on Tuesday. - SUREASH CHOLAI
Paria diving tragedy survivor Christopher Boodram is emotional during his testimony at the commission of enquiry hearing at Tower D, International Waterfront, Port of Spain on Tuesday. – SUREASH CHOLAI

CHRISTOPHER BOODRAM, the sole survivor in the Paria tragedy which claimed the lives of four divers,  gave a harrowing account on Tuesday of being sucked into an undersea oil pipeline before escaping.

“I did not know if I was in heaven or hell, or in a pipe,” Boodram said at the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

He wept openly at times as he spoke. Chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, allowed him to step outside briefly to compose himself. He summed up his experience inside the pipeline as “an unbelievable nightmare.”

Divers Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jr, Rishi Nagassar, Yusuf Henry and Boodram were sucked into a 30-inch pipeline at Pointe-a-Pierre belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd on February 25.

Christopher Boodram testifies that he felt there was no attempt him and his colleagues who were sucked into the 30-inch subsea pipeline. – SUREASH CHOLAI

While Boodram couldn’t get rescuers to his trapped colleagues as he had promised, his fellow divers saved his life by directing him to the open berth six, not the sealed berth five.

“If they didn’t know which direction to go in, I’d be dead today,” he attested of Ali, Kurban and Henry.

Boodram complained there had been no rescue efforts to save his colleagues. He said on emerging from the pipeline, he couldn’t access a decompression unit, and relied on his wife for a salve to clean oil from his sinuses.

He felt his life was under threat in a covid19 isolation ward, even though he was covid-free, next to a woman who died shortly after he was placed there.

Boodram disputed Paria manager Collin Piper’s evidential claim that Boodram had said the trapped men were already dead.

“I would not say something like that. Why would I call Mr Piper to say I think them fellas dead?”

He recalled when their work chamber (“the habitat”) suddenly filled with water.

“I said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”

Jumping into the sea, he was spun rapidly as if in a tornado, beating up his body.

“It happened so fast.”

In a foetal position, he was pulled through the pipeline at “unbelievable speeds,” debris hitting him.

Boodram had to hold his breath so long his lungs made gasping noises, which he hauntingly replicated for the CoE.

“I said, ‘God, I’m coming. Ma, look for me.

“I was in a state of panic. I was not sure if I was dead. I was not sure if I was alive.”

He heard the other divers, asking, “Kazim, you all right?”. He said Ali replied, “No. I in real pain. I mash up bad.”

Commission of enquiry chairman Jerome Lynch, KC. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Henry said, “My foot break.”

Boodram recalled, “I said ,‘No, we’re not going to die. We’re coming out of here, boy. We have to get out of this. God is good.’”

Boodram said the men formed a chain, pulling and pushing each other along the pipeline.

“Inside there was like an unbelievable nightmare. Your eyes burning. Every time you try to open your eyes it burning. Pitch black – you can’t see anything.

“Your throat burning. Your ears ringing. Your body sore.”

The men, in pain, linked up.

“We drag and pull, drag and pull.”

Wiping his nostrils with a washrag, he asked to go outside and Lynch ordered a short break.

A tearful Boodram returned and apologised. Lynch said, “No need for an apology.”

CoE counsel Ramesh Maharaj helped by relating Boodram’s evidence, which he had previously given in a statement.

Lead counsel for the Paria Commission of Enquiry, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, holds up a hula hoop to demonstrate the approximate width of the pipeline in which five LMCS divers were trapped on February 25. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Boodram said the men were in eight-ten inches of water, but as they were moving along, it got deeper – aiding their mobility but providing less air.

He recalled telling Kurban, “Nobody can help us here but God.”

The men found a scuba tank, also sucked into the pipe, and he told them each to take “two or three pulls” to avoid becoming delirious from the pipeline air.

“Trying to stay calm and keep those fellas calm was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in this life.

“Yusuf was in pain, but was a fighter. He had resilience to a different level.”

Boodram recalled finding a GoPro camera.

“I was think(ing) of leaving a message for my family.” However, he decided against it and made up his mind to fight his way out of the pipeline and get help for the others. He said he went ahead of the other men for 15 feet to explore, fearing he’d end up trapped in berth five.

“I have to try because failure is death.” He wiped his tears.

“Kaz said, ‘Don’t go.’ I said, ‘I have to.'”

He said he kicked his foot free of someone’s grasp.

“I had to yank it out, force it out.”

“I started to move through the water. My tank started to go dry. I could only hope I’m reaching a next air pocket or get a next tank. My tank hit a next tank, ‘Tong!'”

Using that tank “was like eating oil.”

“My mind was just on forward, forward!

“Fyzie said, ‘Christopher, I’m right here. Wait for me.’

“I said, ‘I can’t wait for you. If we have to save anybody, we’ve got to get out of here. Fyzie, I can’t wait.”

In the habitat, he clung desperately to a chain, feeling exhausted and faint. His first rescuer appeared. The person was someone he knew but did not recognise.

“I swear to God it was the angel of death.”

He then saw one of Kurban’s sons, Nicholas, and told him to rescue his father, saying, “Now, boy, now!”

Unable to get treatment at a decompression unit, Boodram reflected, “I felt like nobody cared for me. Everybody was like a headless chicken.”

Saying potential rescuers could have bypassed any six-inch-wide scuba tank in the pipeline, as he had done to exit, he said he begged for a rescue, but Paria officials repeatedly cited the scuba gear available, presumably as being inadequate for a rescue.