A boot, an axe and an iPad


The visibility or 'vis' in the Great Slave Lake allowed to see only up to two metres ahead.

The visibility or ‘vis’ in the Great Slave Lake allowed to see only up to two metres ahead.

Yellowknife visit leads to a lake-bottom adventure

Kateryna Bandura
Lookout Editor

When Sub-Lieutenant (SLt) Marty Hagen visited Yellowknife, N.W.T., during a namesake city visit with HMCS Yellowknife’s ship’s company, he did not expect to embark on a side quest.

But, alas, on May 17, he found himself assisting Major (Maj) Jeremy MacDonald from the Joint Task Force (North) HQ in a post-mission dive search for a cell phone lost in Great Slave Lake.

“The dive was highly successful,” SLt Hagen said. “Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Dive Masters gain respect worldwide and Jeremy is testament to the reason they do.”

Maj MacDonald is a PADI Open Water SCUBA Instructor who works through word-of-mouth to recover lost items in the Great Slave Lake and surrounding areas. He accompanied HMCS Yellowknife’s crew through their namesake visit to Yellowknife.

When Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) James Brun, Yellowknife’s Commanding Officer, learned that Maj MacDonald was heading to a post-workday dive, he passed along SLt Hagen’s willingness to help with some post-work bottom searching. SLt Hagen graduated from Ship’s Team Diver course 0022 on Dec. 5, 2022, and has already participated in a few dives with HMCS Vancouver and multiple rescue swimmer exercises on HMCS Yellowknife.

As SLt Hagen puts it, LCdr Brun did him a favour.

“So few people get to enjoy the aspects associated with underwater tourism, but to help a community and explore a lake bottom really made for a great day,” SLt Hagen said.

The search for the cell phone was challenging. SLt Hagen was a buddy diver in a bottom circle search, acting as the second pair of eyes as the team expanded in a circular pattern of a stick placed at the bottom of the lake to cover more ground. The reduced visibility was challenging – at its clearest, they could see only two meters ahead. Additionally, even in May, the Great Slave Lake temperature reaches only 8-10 degrees Celsius. A strong pre-dive brief and always having eyes on your diving buddy keeps everyone safe, SLt Hagen said.

“Be it civilian or military, the saying always remains true: ‘Plan your dive and dive your plan’,” he said. “In the event that we did lose visibility (which happened once), we knew exactly what to do: go up and follow the line back down to your buddy. A strong dive brief eliminates confusion and saves lives.”

Although the initial purpose of the dive was to search for a cell phone, it quickly escalated to retrieval of a pack with iPads and IDs after Maj MacDonald learned of a capsized canoe nearby.

A boot of a Yellowknife citizen SLt Hagen found at the bottom of the Great Slave Lake.

A boot of a Yellowknife citizen SLt Hagen found at the bottom of the Great Slave Lake.

“We maxed out our airtime after two hours of searching and could not retrieve the pack, but with our understanding of the currents, we found it shortly at a nearby shoreline,” he said.

Additionally, the team found a lone boot, which the distressed citizen happily claimed as theirs; they shortly found the second boot. Among other unexpected finds were a trolley that one of Maj MacDonald’s coworkers lost to the lake and a brand-new axe claimed by a married couple living on the boats.

But retrieving lost objects was just one half of SLt Hagen’s side quest, as Maj MacDonald invited him to help train some of his clients, including an RCMP officer and a Military Police member, at Ruth Inch Memorial Pool. The clients were getting PADI Open Water Diver training, and another was training for his PADI Rescue Diver qualification.

“It was great to see that Jeremy had created a thriving dive community in Yellowknife and had amazing relations with the pool staff and his coworkers,” SLt Hagen said. “It’s always a fun day when you can train more divers.”

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