Doug Crowell- Blockhouse Investigations- Nova Scotia
You never know what you might find when searching through archives for information on Nova Scotia's Oak Island mystery. Sometimes you'll stumble upon a little treasure. That's what happened on cold and gloomy Saturday afternoon in January when Blockhouse Investigation's Kel Hancock and Doug Crowell, found an old yellowed newspaper clipping in a scrapbook held at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, in Halifax.
The article was printed in the December 1st 1971 issue of the now defunct Dartmouth Free Press under the headline, Local diver who worked on Oak Island describes descent into mystery chamber, and was written by reporter, Graham Colville. What's significant about the piece is that it describes the descent of a lone diver into the cold, dark depths of Oak Island's famed Borehole 10x.
“I suddenly fell into a small cavern, rather square in shape, and about 12 feet deep, with a flat floor. There seemed to be odd-looking things there, irregular contours on the side of the chamber jutting out.”- Alan Sagar in the Dartmouth Free Press, 1971
In 1971 Alan Sagar, a retired Lieutenant Commander and former Commanding Officer of the Fleet Diving Unit HMCS Granby, was owner-operator of Merganser Diving Services in Halifax, when he was contacted with a unique job offer on Oak Island. In October 1971 he descended down into Borehole 10X, gaining access to the cavity at 235 feet. His dive involved being lowered into the 27 inch pipe which, at that time, ran all the way from the surface down into the bedrock -the shaft had not been enlarged above bedrock yet. The first 90 feet was dry shaft and above water. He didn't use traditional diving gear because the narrow space wouldn't accommodate a diver with large tanks. Instead, he hugged a small bottle of compressed air to his chest as they lowered him into the chamber, in order to reduce the risk of snagging.
“I wouldn’t let it out of my hands. It’s very hazardous using it in their conditions because it gets bashed around a lot.”- Alan Sagar, 1971
Blockhouse Investigations interviewed Sagar, now 90 years old, at his sea-side home, earlier this week, where he recalled that when he emerged into the cavity, he could see the far wall. He was looking through the camera, filming the cavity. As he slowly panned the camera over the area, he attempted to move forward, and the motion caused the silt to bloom up and he could no longer see anything at all. There was nothing to do but return to the surface.
“I got caught up on a weld between pipe segments”
One thing the 1971 newspaper article doesn’t tell you, is that during his ascent he became stuck in the pipe while still underwater. The humble veteran diver didn't mention this at first. But it was quickly pointed out by his wife Margaret, who has just lately learned of some of these fascinating details of her husband’s Oak Island adventure. The couple recently watched some episodes of The Curse of Oak Island TV Show, and that spurred some family discussions. Sagar then matter-of-factly told us, “I got caught up on a weld between pipe segments”
“Once I came up, I didn’t want to go back down again. A bit stupid to do that”
Sagar told us that he got caught up on a weld while being pulled up out of the pipe, and it caused some tense moments. He was unsure of just how long it took them to get him moving again, but he recalled that he thought those on the surface used a backhoe to apply enough upward pressure on the steel cable to free him. When we asked this very experienced diver if he found this situation frightening, he gave us very reserved answer, suitable to a wartime veteran,“Once I came up, I didn’t want to go back down again. A bit stupid to do that” .
“I met Blankenship at a diner on the mainland. We had breakfast and then headed over to the island.”
Lt. Commander, The Reverend, Alan Sagar began his British Naval career in 1943, at age 18, serving in the Royal Navy as Signalman, visiting Hiroshima not long after the bomb was dropped. In 1954 he qualified as a Clearance Diver at HMS Vernon, Portsmouth, and in 1955 joined the Royal Canadian Navy in Halifax as an instructor for Clearance Diving. He retired in 1970, and founded Merganser Diving Services, utilizing knowledge of underwater explosives, camera work, and exploration for various clients. Among the less desirable tasks was diving to recover bodies. It was these skills that likely brought him to the attention of Triton Alliance of Oak Island and led to his historic dive in 10X. “I met Blankenship at a diner on the mainland. We had breakfast and then headed over to the island', he told us.
When we questioned him on the details of what he observed in the 10X cavity Sagar said that his focus was on working the camera, while the crew on the surface were monitoring the video feed, so he no longer recalls much detail. We learned from Margaret that the surface crew for Merganser Diving Services consisted of an employee and Sagar’s then 12 year old son Robie, who often assisted his dad on his dives for the family owned business. During our pleasant afternoon chat with these fine folk, we learned that Alan Sagar had inaugurated a magazine for divers , back in 1954, called Dippers’ Digest, which is still being published today. He not only wrote articles for the digest, he also drew illustrations and cartoons for it. We were treated to a look at some of those excellent cartoons. In later years, he gave more attention to his artwork, and very kindly gifted us with a couple of his illustrations featuring Nova Scotia’s maritime heritage.
After meeting with Alan we determined that we should try and interview the Merganser surface crew, and Margaret was instrumental in helping us set up an interview with Robie Sagar, who also graciously agreed to meet with us. On Monday, February 15th 2016, we took a road trip to visit with him, at his home, and over a cup of tea, Blockhouse Investigations conducted the following interview.
Kel Hancock: Thanks for meeting with us to talk about your dad’s dive into Borehole 10X in October of 1971. The newspaper article says your dad had a very expensive underwater video camera that he used to film in the 10X Cavity.
Robie Sagar: He would take that to go look at wharves and stuff. He would dive down and sort of record all this stuff.
KH: In regards to the camera your father used, do you know if this state of the art video camera was something he had utilized in his company before diving 10X, or did he acquire the camera to do 10X?
RS: No, no, he definitely had it before. We were doing all kinds of funky stuff with it.
Doug Crowell: So going into pipes; diving into pipes; your dad wasn’t a stranger to that?
RS: Well there was a couple we took on, one crazy one for Scotia Square in Halifax. Their sceptic there was built in 4x4 chambers. I was down there with him at 4am in the morning. We were filming the system, and there were rats there too; big rats! Yeah, he would go down in these manholes, some of them really deep. So he was pretty accustomed to going in pipes. So there was a lot of that.
KH: I am trying to put together how Blankenship may have heard about your dad and why he may have contacted him. His work was more or less specialized and he had this high tech camera.
RS: Oh yeah, he was high tech. They [the Navy] would send him in to demine these mines, and do explosives. Then when he retired, and he got this camera, Oak Island would be the perfect scenario for him, because, like you know, it was tight quarters, and he was a top end highly qualified diver as it were. He’s gotten the bends I don’t know how many goddamned, I don’t know. We thought we lost him many times. He was once in the decompression chamber for two weeks one time.
KH: Your dad worked with Triton Alliance from the end of July until October in 1971. Besides a consultation period, in which your dad told us he met Dan Blankenship for the first time over breakfast in a diner on the mainland, do you know what else he might have been doing for them in that period?
RS: I know there was quite a buzz around it for a period of time. For my involvement, was like, I am there for the work, but yes I do remember there being quite a bit of a buzz around for one summer.
DC: Were you aware of the Oak Island mystery, the story, before you went down there for this job?
RS: No, not really. Not really; twelve years old, I’m just kind of like, “Oh Jesus, I’ve got to go off to another frigging job.”
KH: At that time in 1971, we believe that Borehole 10X was still only 27 inches in diameter all the way from the surface down to the cavity at 235 feet. The diver, John Chatterton, would dove into the cavity this past year, in 2015, only have to navigate the 27 inch pipe and hole from a depth of 180 feet, where the expanded shaft ends at bedrock, down to 235 feet. That would be 55 feet of the 27 inch pathway. Your dad had to dive 235 feet of 27 inch pathway. Can you confirm this for us?
RS: I remember when we were there, you know, if the pipe wasn’t 27, it was pretty small around. Right. And they had; I am trying think; to remember details as clearly as I could, and I remember I was the one feeding the line to him, and every 10 feet there would be a mark. 100 feet. 110, you know, and all that sort of stuff. Feeding the cable and watching the monitor. And Dan the man; they called him Dan the man; Blankenship I guess it was. Dan the man, they always referred to him as that. He was there, looking into the back of the camper.
KH: The camper was part of your Dad’s business?
RS: Yeah, that’s right. That was his thing. He did it all, the cable came out of the camper, went into this double recording tape. So there should be a record of the whole thing, and I’m surprised it hasn’t shown up yet, because I was watching it recording when I was lowering the cable and all the boys were there watching. He hit water at 50 feet, or even less than that; 30 feet; can’t remember. I am getting vague about when he hit the water. He had a single tank on, and a regulator, and you know, he was like this. [ holds his arms out like he is hugging something to his chest]
DC: He was holding his canister of air?
KH: Oh my god. Clutched to his chest?
RS: Yes, he was. You had to. He was like this, holding this frigging full tank. Crazy, absolutely insane.
KH: That must have been quite a day?
RS: You know, at the time it didn’t seem like anything, other than I knew he was putting himself at a lot of risk. I mean, oh man, you are going down like, what was it 230 feet.
KH: So there were no comms?
RS: No what?
KH: No communications?
RS: No, no, no, no. Nothing. I mean the only way you could say; and this is the crazy part, because one tug is yes, two is stop, and one is yes, pull me up, or whatever.
DC: So you say there were other people there besides Dan Blankenship, you, and your dad the day of the dive?
RS: I was twelve years old. I’m just; been thinking about it a lot. About what went down, and yeah, there was a lot of guys there. Dan the man, and all the other guys with the hard hats, and they were standing over top of the hole, and I was lowering it and lowering it and lowering it, and I was thinking it was really deep, he was going down; down. And um anyway, he went down, and like I said, he finally hit the bottom, and he came around and I distinctly remember that, that – hopefully it is on the tape to back me up – but as he comes along, and as he sees the pole, and then, I do believe, there was some part of a hand. There was a skeleton hand, and when he did see it, I noticed that there was kind of like this type of thing [indicates with his own arm that a forearm and hand were sticking up in a vertical position]. Oh Jesus, you know.
DC: You said earlier that that was sticking up out of the silt?
RS: Out of the silt. Yeah, out of the silt, not far away from the beam. And it was across this; this sort of; sort of a room I guess, or a cavern size, but you opened up into it, it seemed like a good; a good size, and you know, these guys were just freaking out at this point in time, “Oh my god man, this is it, it’s got to be here!”, right. So there is a real big commotion up top. It really got them stirred up. And so anyway, you know, he did that, and then I just remember he was looking at it, and he held there for a little bit, and then he ah, and he sort of like moved forward, and the silt was so fine, it was about, at least, a couple feet thick. So as soon as he went forward it just ballooned up, and it just; it just blackened out right after that. But that was enough to just set these guys, like, smiling, and just get them really excited, about; you know, what is going on. So the hard part was getting him back out of the hole. So again, no communication, so they’re pulling him; you know, winding him up out of the hole on a steel cable, and pulling up and winding him up, and where the; the pipes got stuck together, the welds, he got hung up. I don’t know if it was part of a regulator, or part of his suit, I can’t remember what part actually was getting hung up. And we were sort of pulling him apart, cause we were cranking on him, right. Trying to get him to hell out of there, and he was pulling on this thing himself.
DC: What kind of winch, manual or electric?
RS: A cable, steel cable and a winch. No, not electric. It was manual. So that was one thing that did kind of save him, because, like, if it was electric, or like much stronger…
KH: It would have pulled him apart?
RS: Yeah, because he got totally fetched up. I’m just not sure if it was his regulator or suit. I can’t; I’m not going to say which one it was, and he didn’t tell ya which one it was?
DC: No, he said he got hung up on a weld, and then he said he thought they used a backhoe to get enough force to pull him out of there.
RS: Ah, yeah…
DC: That was his recollection
RS: Yeah, I guess. Wow. Man. I don’t know… geez. It could have been, I just know he was really freaking out, and he was hung up, what; like, when he came out, he was really upset because of the fact that, you know, he was hung down there, and thinking he was going to run out of air you know.
DC: The newspaper article said the water was drained down to 80 feet. So there was air down to 80 feet and then the water started and we asked him, did he make it out of the water before he got hung up, or was he still under the water, and he said he was still under the water.
RS: Yes, that is how I remember it.
KH: How long do you think he was down total?
RS: An hour, hour and a half.
KH: How much of that time do you think he was actually in the cavern?
RS: Probably not that long, because once he was in the cavern and moving towards this hand, or… the silt just went black.
KH: They are having the same problems today.
RS: So then he had to find his, you know, come back out, follow the cable, and just head for out, because there is nothing else you can do. So he wasn’t there for more than a few minutes.
DC: Did they pull the camera out ahead of him?
RS: Oh, what did we do?
DC: Because in the newspaper article they talked about the camera being lowered down ahead of him.
RS: It had to go down below him, and then he did the filming, and I can’t remember if; yes, it would have to, it would have to, it would just be an awful mess.
KH: So he sent it up?
RS: Yes, he sent it up first, and then they wound him up and then he got snagged in the pipe.
DC: You would almost think you would loosen off a little bit, a give him a little slack.
RS: Well, see, you would just think he is getting heavier or whatever, or something, I’m not sure. But there was a certain point where, hey, he isn’t coming anymore.
DC: Our understanding is that that hole isn’t plumb either, so when he was being raised up through the pipe, he likely was brushing up along one side of the pipe. So it is easy to believe that he could snag on the welding of a joint between pipes.
RS: So there is no way to find out; I know there is a tape out there.
KH: We are going to try and find it.
RS: There is a tape out there, I’ll tell ya. I was there when it was made.
DC: So that is what you remember. Your dad came out into the cavity, and with the camera, he was panning and you saw what looked like a hand and a timber?
RS: Yeah, yup, oh definitely the timber. That is why I was hesitant about saying there was like a hand because geez, like I mean you know, but; that’s what we all kind of thought it was.”
RS: I wish you could see the tape.
DC: It was your impression that it was a wooden timber?
RS: Oh god yeah.
DC: It wasn’t drill casing or pipe?
RS: No, no; it was square. That is something I am pretty clear on.
DC: Have you ever been back to Oak Island since that day?
RS: No, never been back. Like I said, it was a one-time thing.
KH: Robie, we greatly appreciate you for allowing us to interview you. Thank you!
On our drive back to the Annapolis Valley, we marveled at what it must have been like for those present on that day in October of 1971 when, as video recordings were being made, they viewed what they perceived to be a man-made timber post and a skeleton hand sticking up out of about a 2 foot thick layer of silt. No chest was mentioned this day. The diver himself, then as now, was more reserved in his comments to the press in that article back in December of 1971.
“I think all these things are sort of open to interpretation. On screen there were various sorts of wood-shaped or wooden-looking objects which can be interpreted as man-made.”- Alan Sagar, 1971
Thanks for reading, and Goodnight from The Blockhouse!
From The Blockhouse
is published by Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca
in Nova Scotia, Canada
Editors and Chief Correspondents
Kelly W. Hancock, CD
John Wonnacott, P. Eng.
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