Story by LT Andrew Thompson on 07/23/2018SAN DIEGO (Jul. 19, 2018) Able Diver Trent Luka, from the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Clearance Diving Team (CDT), recently completed "pouncer" operations training to recover drifting, buoyant sea mines during Exercise Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018. He shared his RIMPAC experience in an interview.
Q: What is your job during RIMPAC 2018?
"My specialties as a clearance diver are: mine clearance, salvage operations, and land and maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). But for RIMPAC, my main job is mine clearance."
Q: How many dives have you completed so far this exercise?
"I've completed seven dives so far, but not all of them were searching for mines. The first dives were 'data dives' where we assessed the sea floor, ocean currents, and water visibility. After that, we send in the Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) to search for the mines using sonar. The UUV team pass the GPS coordinates of suspected mines to us. We then dive on those coordinates to put eyes on the targets. We also do 'pouncer' dives where we jump out of a helicopter to contain and neutralize drifting buoyant mines."
Q: Pouncer operations sound dangerous. Did you prepare for this dive to reduce risk of injury?
"Yes, they can be seriously dangerous! I've done it once before with the Australians, where the helicopter was really high up. I hit the water hard and it hurt. So we have to rehearse ahead of time to make sure we hit the water in good form.
"We did the pouncer operations with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force EOD team, so we did a lot of cross-training with them. We rehearsed the whole evolution right by our diving headquarters [at Naval Base Point Loma] right by our boat-launching pier. Once we were confident in our form, we practiced our communications with the helicopter crew. Then we were ready for the real jump."
Q: Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 14 provided the launching platform. How was your experience working with them?
"They were great. They got the [MH-53E Sea Dragon] helicopter really close to the water. It didn't hurt at all when we landed. Communications were also great. Our cast master was a fellow New Zealand diver. He had comms with the helicopter crew the entire time. He told us when we were in position and gave us the final order to jump.
Q: What did you do after you entered the water?
"It was a bit disorienting when we first hit the water, because the helicopter was kicking up a lot of spray. After a few seconds, the helicopter flew away and we spotted the mine. We swam up to it and started working on it. The whole operation was exciting and very successful. It reminds me why I signed up to do this!"