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Navy holds ice diving operation on Sheridan Lake

Divers included members of the United States, New Zealand, Netherlands and UK navies

Members of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit Pacific led a five-day-long ice diving exercise at Sheridan Lake last week.

Several divers took the plunge under the lake’s 16 inches of ice to explore the cold and murky depths. The exercise’s operations officer, Lieut. Demetris Mousouliotis, said his 15-strong team was joined by 12 members of the United States Mobile Salvage and Diving Unit One from Hawaii, a five-person team from the Royal New Zealand Navy, two observers from the Royal Netherlands Navy and four observers from the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy.

“The visitor nations are here to see what it takes to conduct ice diving and if it’s something they can facilitate in their own countries,” Mousouliotis said. “(They want to know) what are the logistical requirements, the safety procedures and that kind of stuff. It was also an opportunity for us to improve our interoperability with our partners, such as the teams from the USA.”

Mousouliotis, who has been in the navy for 21 years, said for the Canadians the exercise also served as a chance to hone their skills. It’s important for the clearance divers who make up his unit to be ready to deploy in any conditions.

“Clearance diving is a sub-occupation within the naval warfare officer occupation. So it’s kind of like a specialty trade,” Mousouliotis said. “Clearance divers offer three main capabilities. We do land and water-based explosive ordinance disposal, we offer underwater mine countermeasure diving and ship support.

“Ship support can be the maintenance of a ship or searching the bottom of a harbour to make sure there’s nothing left behind by the navies of visiting nations.”

After an extensive safety briefing, the divers suited up in dry suits and slipped under the ice for 30-minute intervals to practice sweeping the lakebed. While they were equipped with scuba gear, they used a 90-meter tether attached to oxygen tanks to breathe. Mousouliotis said this technology also allows divers to communicate with the support crew on the surface.

“We used to dive with just a scuba set attached to a lifeline but now we’ve moved away from those old cylinders. It just makes a lot more sense to use this system because it has integrated communications, essentially an unlimited supply of air and it reduces the possibility of a lost diver,” Mousouliotis said. “It would be very difficult to sever this umbilical, so it’s a lot safer.”

There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among clearance divers thanks to their shared training. Mousouliotis said it’s that sense of shared experience and accomplishment that has kept him with the unit, even though his role is now primarily logistics and support.

PO1 Ryan Burrell trained several divers who went into Sheridan Lake last weekend. He added everyone involved in clearance diving is hard-working and professional.

“Everyone trusts everyone. I know that if I need someone to haul me back from diving if I’m unconscious, they’re there for me,” Burrell said.

Burrell said the most important thing to do while diving is to stay calm. He taught his students that even if they get stuck or lose their oxygen supply, they need to take a breath and remember their training. All the divers go down in pairs.

“We have a saying in the military that ‘two is one, one is none’. When we’re not dealing with explosives we dive in pairs for added safety so that if one person has a problem their buddy diver can help,” Mousouliotis said.

Since 2021, Mousouliotis said the Navy has run several operations in Cariboo lakes. Sheridan Lake was chosen for its depth, which ranges between 10 to 25 feet, and so the team could stay at the Sheridan Lake Resort. He thanked the owners and members of 100 Mile’s Canadian Ranger Patrol for being so welcoming.

There wasn’t much to see on the bottom of Sheridan Lake, Burrell said, compared with Victoria, where he’s seen a wide range of sea life. Getting the chance to swim through kelp forests and observe these animals is an added bonus to the job.

“There are some cool things to see underwater that not a lot of people in the world get to see,” Burrell said. “Sea turtles are my favourite. I like chilling with sea turtles. Sharks are sometimes there but by the time you see them they’re usually gone.”

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Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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