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Snorkelling Engineer Reconnects Broken Subsea Fibre in Scotland

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 6,876

It’s not often that you see a lone Openreach broadband engineer, stood atop a ladder and surrounded by water some 30 metres off the shore. But that’s exactly what John McConnell found himself doing after a tiny island in the middle of Loch Lomond (Scotland) was cut off, which needed an awkward cable to be fixed.

The 1 mile long Inchfad Island is currently home to just two premises and they’re connected via a subsea fibre cable that links back to the mainland about 700-800 metres away via the beach at Balmaha. Sadly, this service was recently disrupted after a group of campers, who were staying on that same beach, tugged up the cable and broke the connection.

Luckily one of Openreach’s local engineers, John McConnell, also happened to be a member of the Dumbarton sub-aqua club and came up with a way of using those additional skills to solve the problem. In short, this meant swimming out to where the damage had occurred (he had to find that in murky water) and then hauling the cable up over his ladder in order to repair it.

Donning his dry suit, snorkel and flippers under the watchful eye of his engineering buddy Gary Lamb, John carried out a full risk assessment and underwater survey. Then, to the amazement of local fishermen, he anchored his ladder to use as a table to repair the damage above water, as his red toolbox floated alongside,” said a suitably proud Openreach spokesperson.

John, 62, from Dumbarton, said:

“I’ve been with Openreach for 40 years and a diver for 10 – and this was my most unusual assignment yet. The households on the island are very isolated and finding where the damage lay was vital to get their services restored quickly.

At one point two fishermen pulled alongside in their boat to see what was going on. They were amazed to see an engineer standing on a ladder 30 metres from the shore. Visibility wasn’t great under the water, but I’d seen enough to know they weren’t going to catch any fish there!”

The armoured subsea cable has now been secured with underwater concrete blocks, which should help to reduce the chances of such damage happening again in the future.


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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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22 Responses
  1. Tony says:

    Now that’s a good fix.

  2. André says:

    Hah! Kudos for supplying a service to such a secluded area and for such a cool fix in these days of corporate risk-averseness.
    Thumbs up to all concerned 🙂

  3. Buggerlugz says:

    Made me smile that this tiny island in the middle of a Loch has better connectivity than the rest of Scotland.

    Bet it was a touch chilly down there!

    1. A_Builder says:

      Or the alternative view point being that someone in the past was far sighted enough to not just try and wedge a cuprous connection and specified the job properly?

      At least that is somewhere already upgraded to a good standard.

      The whole thing has a certain comedy value to it which I suspect appealed to the OR engineers. Anyway good job – well done.

  4. Declan M says:

    Brilliant, don’t think you’d catch many a Openreach engineer dedicated to do that. Hats off to him.

  5. joe says:

    The obvious Q is wtf were the campers doing?

    1. craski says:

      Looking at the ladder in both pictures, the water depth where the repair has been done must only be a few feet deep. If that is the case, the cable would be easily damaged if its just surface laid and if it has been previously snagged and sticking up, it would be easily damaged by small outboard propellers or the likes.

  6. chris conder says:

    OR engineers are brill. If they can mend it they will.

    1. Gary says:

      As with every walk of life some are, some not so much, I’ve had engineers put in a lot of effort trying to get my line performing to the best they could manage and others who came, tested, shrugged and said oh well you’re lucky to have adsl at all and left.

      These guys here get a big thumbs up, this could very easily been a nightmare to get resolved.

    2. Somerset says:

      @CC- Saw a car with B4RN in the registration!

  7. Richard Ednay says:

    How did John manage to do the repair? Tricky to keep a fusion splicer dry in that environment! Do OpenReach use mechanical splices?

    1. John says:

      Look at the picture.

      The ladder was taken than the depth of the water.
      He balanced the splicer on to of the ladder.

    2. John says:


  8. Tommy T says:

    Hi Mark,
    Wow – great article.
    I’m the Head of Brand at Cuckoo Broadband, do you mind if we use the images from this post for a social post? We loved this article and will obviously credit you and ISPreview.

    Feel free to email me at tommy@cuckoo.co if you’re happy.


    1. Tommy T says:

      Thanks Mark! You can see it live on the Cuckoo Instagram/Facebook page here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CEcHH8XAcaM/

      All the best.

  9. Broadbandman says:

    I think that you will find the cable was copper not fibre, no fibre in that area. Still big thumbs up to the OR engineers

  10. ScottM says:

    Not convinced this can actually be called “subsea” when it is in a fresh water loch!

  11. Bob says:

    Snorkelling for your personal enjoyment is one thing, but when you’re working for a UK company, that company is liable for the safety of their employees (HASAW Act 1974) – all professional employees know this. This may have been well-intentioned but looks to possibly have been very naive, and has put the employer at risk of penalty and reputation damage. Why was a proper commercial diver not used? I hope the “risk assessment” was reasonable and formally recorded as the engineer may need it in court.

    1. Grazza says:

      I bet you are fun at parties.

  12. Mark says:

    That is a good quick fix…best intention might have prevailed here but doing a commercial diving job (and that is exactly what this is), I fail to see how you get away with it.

    I can think of a dozen HSE legal violations just reading this passage, both for you and BT OpenReach.

    The smart thing would have been to keep your mouth shut and not post on mainstream or social media.

    Good luck in court though.

  13. Paul says:

    What an inspiration to young engineers, going above and beyond his job description to get the 2 households a vital connection, well done.

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