Diver Commended for Saving Partner’s Life

By Peter Mallett

A ship’s diving officer has been recognized with a prestigious Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Commendation for saving the life of a shipmate.

Sub-Lieutenant Travis Verbeek and his diving partner were conducting underwater salvage operations on October 2, 2019 in Esquimalt. They were diving to depths of 15 meters to move underwater welding tables to a new location.

The two divers were ascending and descending separately to bring their tools and equipment back to the surface. While performing these tasks they were separated for approximately 30 seconds.

That’s when Verbeek found his dive partner face down on the sea floor, completely motionless.

His diver training immediately kicked in.

“At that moment my initial reaction was to take positive control of him, assess if he was okay and why he wasn’t moving, and then bring him to the surface safely.”

Verbeek initiated the Unconscious Diver Emergency Drill.

First he made sure his dive partner’s mask was in place. This was important to prevent him from drowning and to make sure that any air in his lungs was expelled to avoid other dive-related injuries.

He then fully inflated his partner’s buoyancy vest to enable his safe ascent to the surface.

Thankfully, the pair were conducting their dive close to Fleet Diving Unit Pacific’s jetty, and their training team was able to respond quickly. The instructors and trainees moved a ladder into place so the injured diver could be quickly extricated.

He was then loaded onto a stretcher, put on oxygen, placed in a recompression chamber, and put in the care of on-site medical personnel. SLt Verbeek was also given a medical examination, but was determined to be uninjured.

The injured diver made a full recovery.

Cmdre Dave Mazur (left), Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, and Cdr Mark O’Donohue, ship’s commanding officer, congratulate SLt Travis Verbeek on his Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation aboard HMCS Calgary.
A Clearance Diver from Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) helps a diver during an emergency procedure scenario.
“He was very thankful and we talked afterwards and discussed how quick actions and our training were why he was alive and also avoided any major prolonged injuries,” says SLt Verbeek.

SLt Verbeek received gratitude for his deed from his dive partner, his co-workers and the Commanding Officer of Fleet Diving Unit Pacific.

He thought that was the end of the congratulations.

But then last October he received a phone call from Rear-Admiral Angus Topshee, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific, to inform him of official recognition from the CDS, General (Gen) Wayne Eyre.

“SLt Verbeek’s professionalism and decisive actions saved the life of his partner,” wrote Gen Eyre.

SLt Verbeek recently received the commendation while Calgary was alongside in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it was presented to him by Commodore Dave Mazur, Commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific, during a medal presentation.

“I didn’t know I was nominated for any kind of commendation and I certainly don’t view myself as a hero,” says SLt Verbeek.

“This is not only what is expected of a diver, to look out for their partner, but is what anyone would have done in the same situation.”

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