In the days of diving suits—the sort that were connected to the surface by long hoses—divers sometimes experienced a dreaded phenomenon known as "the squeeze." This occurred when the surface pumps failed, leading to a catastrophic loss of pressure in the suit. The air would leave the suit with such violence that the hapless diver would be, all too literally, sucked up into the helmet and hosepipe. When hauled to the surface, "all that is left in the suit are his bones and some rags of flesh," the biologist J. B. S. Haldane wrote in 1947, adding for the benefit of doubters, "This has happened."
(Incidentally, the original diving helmet, designed in 1823 by an Englishman named Charles Deane, was intended not for diving but for fire-fighting. It was called a "smoke helmet," but being made of metal it was hot and cumbersome and, as Deane soon discovered, firefighters had no particular eagerness to enter burning structures in any form of attire, but most especially not in something that heated up like a kettle and made them clumsy into the bargain. In an attempt to save his investment, Deane tried it underwater and found it was ideal for salvage work.)
The real terror of the deep, however, is the bends—not so much because they are unpleasant, though of course they are, as because they are so much more likely. The air we breathe is 80 percent nitrogen. Put the human body under pressure, and that nitrogen is transformed into tiny bubbles that migrate into the blood and tissues.