Panama City Beach, Fla. (WMBB) — The SEALAB 1 submarine is displayed at the Man in the Sea Museum in Panama City Beach, and the famous Navy saturation diver who rode in it passed away Thursday March 26.
In 1964 the Navy conducted its very first deep submergence experiment using SEALAB 1, Chief Robert “Bob” A. Barth slipped 192 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in it. He and his team lived in the submarine there for the next eleven days 25 miles off of the coast of Bermuda.
For this achievement, he would be awarded the Legion of Merit by the Navy and continue on to help lead the SEALAB 2 and SEALAB 3 experiments through 1969. During that time he would meet and become good friends with the project’s mechanical engineer, Jim McCarthy. They remained friends until his passing.
McCarthy said Barth was a man with a good sense of humor, liked playing tricks on people, but had a huge heart.
“Nobody in the world could come up with things except Bob Barth, you know, and he could trick you, but he’ll love you to
Another good friend of Barth’s, J.R. Fowler, says meeting Barth was exciting since he was a legend in Fowler’s eyes.
“Any saturation diver who does not know Bob Barth’s name, he’s not a saturation diver.”
Fowler noted that while well known, Barth was a humble man. Even in 2010 when the Naval Support Activity station in Panama City named their diver training pool after him.
Fowler shared that towards the end of Barth’s life, he read him a long list of people wishing him well. Fowler remembered Barth’s response to the outreach.
“And he got this little smile on his face, a little twinkle, and he says ‘I got a lot of friends don’t I?'” said Fowler.