Courtesy Story, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command
BRITISH COLUMBIA, Canada – The echo of snowmobiles and chainsaws filled the air as U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Navy, and Royal Canadian Navy divers partnered to hone their ice diving skills during an Ice Diving Training Exercise hosted by the Royal Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit Pacific Mar. 4-15 in British Columbia, Canada.
Over the course of two weeks, divers from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command’s Underwater Construction Teams (UCT) 1 and 2 and Mobile Diving and Salvage Units 1 and 2 worked with the multinational team to increase proficiency and competency in a number of areas including the assessment of ice diving locations; dive team preparation and planning; selection and set-up of bespoke ice-diving equipment; and, the conduct of ice diving procedures, to include several under-ice tasks such as searches, recovery of objects, and other emergency procedures required when operating in an overhead environment and sub-zero environmental conditions.
Prior to transiting to the ice diving location, divers received several lectures covering ice diving safety and procedures and conducted shake-out dives pier-side in Victoria.
Diving is inherently dangerous, even those that have never taken the plunge into the blue abyss would agree, however, under ice, with little to no visibility and frigid water temperatures, the stakes are even higher. Equipment malfunctions in ideal conditions can be deadly but when they happen under the ice, divers only have moments to exercise their emergency procedures. A dry suit leak in 35-degree water, or a regulator freeze can be deadly, this means that divers have to react instinctively to minimize exposure and get back to the relative comfort of the diving shelter. When diving under the ice, seconds can be the difference between life and death.
“It’s better to fail, or find out if you have any equipment issues, in a controlled environment where the water is a little warmer and divers have free access to the surface prior to going to the ice,” said UCT-1 Chief Builder Adam Perry, assistant officer in charge of Construction Diving Detachment Charlie (CDD/C).
As the first day began, the outline of the wagon wheel took shape as snow blowers churned through 2 feet of soft packed snow revealing the frozen interior. The ice hole was cut with precision as a chainsaw, equipped with a 4-foot bar, chewed through 20 inches of solid ice. A perfectly shaped triangle was hoisted from its position with a mobile chain fall equipped with magnesium skids, making it possible for divers to push the nearly 1-ton block of ice to a temporary resting place. Finally, a tent was erected and moved over the ice hole completing the day’s ice diving site set-up.
As part of the exercise scenario, divers were tasked recover items from a simulated downed aircraft. Three diving sites were constructed and teams quickly got to work in search of various items of interest that were placed in the water during the summer. Each dive started with exercising an ice diving emergency procedure prior to divers moving out in search of downed items.
“Being tasked with finding and recovering items made it challenging,” said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Nicholas Puchetti, assigned to UCT-1.
After four days of diving beneath 20 inches of ice, each team recovered all items they were tasked with finding.
“The experience gained in setting up an ice diving site and executing diving in a less than hospitable environment was invaluable,” said UCT-1 Lt. j.g. Justin Mulloney, officer in charge of CDD/C. “The work was extremely difficult but very rewarding.”