HMCS Calgary: Ship’s diver hailed for life-saving heroics

Cmdre Dave Mazur (left), Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, and Cdr Mark O’Donohue, ship’s commanding officer, congratulate SLt Travis Verbeek on his Command Commendation aboard HMCS Calgary during a port visit in Hawaii. Photo Courtesy HMCS Calgary

Peter Mallett 
Staff Writer

A ship’s diving officer has been recognized with a prestigious Command Commendation for saving the life of a shipmate.

SLt Travis Verbeek, a Naval Warfare Officer in HMCS Calgary, was conducting underwater salvage operations on Oct. 2, 2019, in Esquimalt harbour when he noticed his dive partner lying motionless on the seabed. His diver training immediately kicked in. He initiated the Unconscious Diver Emergency Drill and was able to return the stricken diver safely to the surface without risking further injury.

His life-saving efforts were recognized in an official certificate signed by Gen Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff.

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

He received the commendation while Calgary was alongside in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on its current deployment. The commendation was presented to him by Commodore Dave Mazur, Commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific., during a medal presentation the for ship’s company for their previous deployment during which they set many records for drug busts.

The incident

At the time of the incident, SLt Verbeek was posted to Fleet Diving Unit Pacific to undergo ship’s diver on-the-job training. He and his dive partner were diving to depths of 15 metres to move underwater welding tables to a new location.

The two divers were making a series of individual ascents and descents to bring their tools and equipment back to the surface. While performing these tasks the divers were separated for approximately 30 seconds. That’s when SLt Verbeek found his dive partner face down on the sea floor and motionless.

“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.”

Also crucial in the rescue was making sure his dive partner’s mask was in place. This was important to avoid risk of drowning and to ensure that any air in his lungs was expelled to avoid further dive-related injury. He then fully inflated his partner’s buoyancy vest to enable his safe ascent to the surface.

Thankfully, the pair were doing their dive close to Fleet Diving Unit’s jetty and their training team were 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.

“He was very thankful to me 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.

A Humble Hero

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

“I did not 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.”

The Command Commendation was created in 1995 and recognizes deeds and activities above and beyond the demand of normal duty. The insignia for Command Commendation is a silver bar bearing three maple leaves. The Chief of the Defence Staff grants the authority to specific commanders to award the Command Commendation. It is accompanied by scrolls signed by an appropriate National Defence Head Quarters group principal or commander of a command.


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