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AD 2016 Q1

RESEARCH, EDUCATION &

RESEARCH, EDUCATION & MEDICINE ADVANCED DIVING Always Ready THE U.S. COAST GUARD DIVING PROGRAM By David Helvarg “My umbilical is stuck,” MK1 Michael Pearsall reports. “Primary banks going down,” DV1 Geri Cabrera says from where she’s monitoring her fellow diver’s air, communications and depth on the XLDS (Extreme Lightweight Diving System). We’re on a Coast Guard pier in Alameda, Calif. It’s a hot, clear day, and we can see his bubbles about 30 yards out. “I’m having a hard time breathing. I need some air,” Pearsall says. “Tell the diver to go to EGS,” directs team supervisor DV1 Adonis Kazouris, referring to the emergency gas system. Cabrera relays the message. Pearsall switches to the EGS scuba tank on his back instead of the rack RYAN CARPENTER 46 | WINTER 2016

of tanks on the pier that has been supplying him air through a quarter-inch umbilical. “Can you get the umbilical untangled?” Kazouris asks Pearsall. “No, negative,” he replies. The team’s second diver proceeds over a muddy gray bottom through murky, 5-foot-visibility water and reports, “I’ve found a leak in the umbilical. Unfouling it now.” “Thanks, buddy,” Pearsall responds into the mic of his MK-20 full-face mask, prompting some wry grins from his seven topside teammates. Soon line handlers lift the two divers to the surface. “Divers on surface,” Kazouris calls out. “Divers on surface,” a topside chorus repeats. The two divers climb up a swaying 15-foot rope-and-wood Jacob’s ladder that’s been secured to the pier a short distance behind the Coast Guard cutter Stratton. I’m with a “fly-away team” from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Regional Dive Locker West (RDLW), based in San Diego, and working out of a trailer full of tanks, weights, a compressor, safety lines and more. Between maintenance dives underneath the 418-foot Stratton, they’re doing what Coast Guard personnel always do between operations: train fiercely, in this case with various emergency scenarios such as loss of air supply, injury, entanglement and decompression sickness (DCS). They’re working to qualify a couple of dive supervisors on the new XLDS. These drills are based on their primary missions: aids to navigation, polar operations and PWCS (ports, waterways and coastal security). Examples of this work include helping to rescue the 207-foot Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain after it got stuck in Antarctic ice last winter, securing Manhattan’s rivers when Pope Francis visited New York in September and helping recover debris and bodies from a Coast Guard helicopter crash that killed four of their fellow service members off Mobile, Ala., in 2012. In March 2016 they will head to the Arctic Ocean to train with Navy divers on an ice floe off Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where a growing range of threats and challenges are emerging from the declining sea ice. As part of their polar mission training, they do a lot of ship inspections and repairs for the fleet. Yesterday they inspected the Stratton’s hull, props and bow thruster (using a hand-held Outland video system so the ship’s engineer could see what they saw), and they plugged a discharge port so a leak in the engine room could be worked on. This afternoon they’ll put another patch over a sea chest (intake reservoir) so additional maintenance can be carried out inside the hull. One of the dives lasted for an hour and 55 minutes, which is why they’re using a surface-supplied air • Includes all meals, beverages and transfers • Free Nitrox • Tech diving available • Nine spacious suites ALERTDIVER.COM | 47

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