A scuba diver and South Florida native who says he's lucky to be alive is filing suit against Florida Power and Light. Christopher Le Cun said he was sucked into an intake pipe at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant.
This has happened at least once before, in 1989. Both scuba divers have almost identical tales of roughly five minutes of terror that they were sure would cost them their lives.
On July 12, 2015, Le Cun says he was enjoying a day of boating and scuba diving with his family and friends off the coast of Hutchinson Island.
"We were going from rock pile to rock pile and we saw a yellow buoy," said Le Cun.
The buoy marks three massive submerged structures, so large their silhouettes can be seen from hundreds of feet above.
"Did you have any idea what they were?" NewsChannel 5's Jared Werksma asked. "No, no clue, it actually was amazing to see," said Robert Blake.
Best friends since high school, Blake and Christopher tied their boat to the buoy and dove in to check out what was beneath while their families stayed behind on the boat.
"Were there any warnings posted anywhere?" Werksma asked.
"Nowhere, there was no warnings whatsoever," said Le Cun.
Florida Power & Light disagrees. A spokesman said since the plant was built the buoy has always read "stay back 100 feet." But both Blake and Le Cun claim there was no indication of danger, written or otherwise, until it was too late.
"I swam right up to this big structure and it looks like a building underwater. I felt a little bit of current. All of a sudden it got a little quicker and I said, 'this ain't right, this ain't right,'" said Le Cun.
"He got sucked in like a wet noodle. He just, poof, gone," said Blake.
"What were you feeling at that point, I mean when you saw him get pulled in?" asked Werksma.
"Instant death. I saw my friend die," said Blake.
Blake surfaced in a panic, screaming to the people on the boat that Chris was gone and that "something sucked him in." Chris' wife Brittany Le Cun says she thought Blake was joking until she saw the look on his face.
"All I remember doing was grabbing my son, holding him, crying and praying out loud," Brittany said.
"Did you think he was gone?" Werksma asked. "Yes," Brittany replied.
But deep beneath the surface Chris was holding on.
"I kind of felt like I got sucked over a waterfall and just instantly complete darkness. I was getting tumbled around and around. I'm trying to hold onto my mask and my regulator. I finally get ahold of my light and I'm trying to look around. As far as you can see, it's just black," Le Cun explained.
FPL says the pipe Christopher was in is 16 feet across, about a quarter-mile long, sucks in around 500,000 gallons of water per minute and is used to cool the plant's nuclear reactors.
"It's about a 4-1/2 to 5 minute ride. You get to do a lot of thinking," said Le Cun.
"I knew something was drawing all this water. All I could think about was these horror movies you know, this big turbine coming and I'm coming for it. You know, it's going to chop me up and kill me," Le Cun said with tears in his eyes.
"I contemplated, you know, do I just pull the regulator out of my mouth and just die? I started thinking about my family, you know, how are they going to survive without me?" Le Cun said.
Finally, Christopher says he saw the first indication that his long, dark journey was about to end one way or another.
"All of a sudden it looks like a match, out in the distance, just the littlest bit of what you've ever seen. When it gets a little bigger, then a little bigger. Then all of a sudden just, poof, daylight. Fish everywhere, crystal-clear water the sun is shining and I'm like, 'is this heaven?'" Le Cun exclaimed as if he was reliving it as we spoke.
He was still on Earth and counting his blessings as he pulled himself out of one of the reservoirs at the nuclear plant and spotted an employee.
Le Cun recalls, "I'm yelling help, help and he says, 'how did you get in here?' And I said, 'I came through the pipe' and he says...'what?'"
Le Cun says he was tattered and bruised but he could only think of one thing, "I said need a phone, I gotta call my wife."
Brittany was on the phone trying to explain to a 911 dispatcher what had just happened to her husband. So when calls started coming in from an unfamiliar number, naturally she ignored it. Until the third time, Chris called.
"Something's just telling me to pick up the phone so I did," said Brittany.
"She picks up and she just goes 'hello' and I said 'I'm alive,'" Le Cun remembers.
We asked Florida Power and Light about this incident and safety features at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. We received this statement:
Nothing is more important safety at our St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plants, which is a reason that we have a protective over the intake piping. The diver intentionally swam into one of the intake pipes after bypassing a piece of equipment to minimize the entry of objects.
FPL would not comment on the pending litigation which claims
negligence for inadequate safety precautions. Le Cun is hoping it will lead to safety improvements before this happens a third time.