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Photographer injured in explosion dives back into life

Posted November 15, 2011

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— An underwater photographer who lost his left arm in a January explosion at his Fayetteville home says he's slowly re-learning to dive and shoot video.

Former WRAL News photographer Rick Allen had pulled into his garage on Jan. 3 when an oxygen tank used for diving toppled over and exploded. He suffered burns over 20 percent of his body, and his arm was blown off.

"Right after the explosion, I remember looking down at my left arm and going, 'Wow, my life has changed forever,'" Allen said Tuesday. "After that, my next thought was, 'Oh crap, I'm on fire!'"

His wife, Cindy Burnham, who was inside the house at the time of the explosion, sprayed him with a fire extinguisher.

Allen grabbed a garden hose with his right arm, determined to put out the house fire. A neighbor who heard the explosion ran over and grabbed the hose from him, and Allen asked the man to care for Burnham and his golden retriever, Lucky.

"I was in pain beyond pain," he said. "(I thought), 'You can let go. This can all be over, and the pain will go away,' and I just remember thinking, 'Hell no. It's not my day to die.'"

He told the firefighters responding to the explosion and house fire to go look for his arm.

"I knew it was in the garage somewhere and that there may be the possibility that they can reattach it if it's cleanly cut off," he said.

Instead, he spent three months at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill – most of it in a drug-induced coma – and surgeons amputated his forearm.

Rick Allen Photographer returns to diving after explosion

A renowned underwater photographer for television networks like the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel, Allen has roamed the world, exploring shipwrecks and swimming with sharks. By July, he was back in the water.

"It's a place I love being, and it's good for your soul," he said. "The first time I got back in the pool, I knew exactly how much I'd lost. So, getting back in the ocean is really kind of bittersweet."

He went back in the ocean in September, poking around the wreckage of Blackbeard's ship off North Carolina's coast with his prosthetic arm.

"I'm getting used to it," he said of his new limb. "It's really cool to have a thumb again."

Allen is planning a dive trip to the Bahamas as early as next month, and he also is shooting video again. He admits, however, that he can never be the photographer he was before the explosion.

"It is (discouraging) because I love running a camera," he said. "That is the best job in the world, to be the guy behind the camera."

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  • mfarmer1 Nov 16, 2011

    messed up events, good for him for getting back on his horse.

  • nanasix Nov 16, 2011

    Fantastic news. God Bless you. Keep up the good work, the fight isn't over, and always remember you can do anything you want to do, it just might take a different approach.

  • caseofthefoo Nov 16, 2011

    Coincidentally, the Def Leppard drummer who lost his left arm in a car crash is also named Rick Allen.

  • big carl Nov 16, 2011

    He should have never stored the tanks the way he did and this whole thing could have been easily avoided. Good for him for wanting to get back in the water and I hope his prosthetic arm is rust proof.

  • jsok123 Nov 16, 2011

    "...dives back into life..."

    Give me a break

  • SouthernGirlJD Nov 16, 2011

    Hes very lucky and its really nice to see someone that realizes that and can laugh about it today. Good for him!

  • Scaramouche Nov 16, 2011

    "I'm getting used to it," he said of his new limb. "It's really cool to have a thumb again."

    Ya know, it really is the little things you miss.

  • John Q Public Nov 15, 2011

    It's nice to see he has a sense of humor about it.

    "Right after the explosion, I remember looking down at my left arm and going, 'Wow, my life has changed forever,'" Allen said Tuesday. "After that, my next thought was, 'Oh c&&&, I'm on fire!'"

    Here's to a speedy recovery! Also funny that the article has the c word in it but I can't even quote it in my message.