Openreach engineer dives in to keep islanders connected

Intrepid engineer John McConnell dived straight in when residents on one of Scotland’s smallest inhabited islands were cut off from the outside world.

Curious campers tugged up a subsea cable on the beach at Balmaha, Loch Lomond, leaving the two households on tiny Inchfad Island with no landlines or internet connections.

Openreach engineer John – a fully trained diver and member of Dumbarton sub-aqua club – came up with an ingenious solution, using his passion outside of work to fix the problem.

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.

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!

“I’ve been diving all around the world – in places like Egypt, Spain, Borneo and China – but it’s not often you get to combine your hobby with your work,” added the dad-of-two. “I’ve come across plenty of sharks over the years, but the only thing that’s ever bitten me was a clown fish hiding in an anemone.”

The armoured subsea cable has now been secured with underwater concrete blocks, to make sure the island – which is less than a mile long – stays connected in future. Meanwhile John is preparing for his next diving adventure – rescuing a canoe from the bottom of Loch Long.

Openreach Scotland’s customer service director Fraser Rowberry said: “Our engineers have many hidden talents and a flair for Scottish ingenuity. Having already had our own ‘Bear Grylls’ camping out for customers on Coll this summer, we’ve now discovered Openreach’s Jacques Cousteau.

“We’ll always go the distance to keep customers connected when we can do so safely. It’s especially important during the pandemic, when people’s connections have never been more of a lifeline to the outside world.”