Navy divers survey historic wreck

A diver selected to survey USS Arizona swims slowly alongside the decaying ship. Photos courtesy LS Joe Falletta

A diver selected to survey USS Arizona swims slowly alongside the decaying ship. Photo courtesy LS Joe Falletta

Rachel Lallouz, Staff Writer ~

Three Clearance Divers had a rare opportunity to dive an American historical site.

Leading Seaman Joe Falletta, LS Raphael Marcouiller and LS Benoit Leonard from Fleet Diving Unit Pacific, and Master Corporal Nathan Rommens, Combat Diver from CFB Gagetown, were among the first non-Americans to complete a diving survey of USS Arizona, a ship bombed and sunk in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941.

“The ship is a war memorial, and isn’t open to the public because it is an actual gravesite with 900 American sailors still trapped inside of it,” says LS Falletta.

He and a group of 10 divers from Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and the Netherlands were selected to attend the dive, led by an American National Parks representative diver.

They are now among the less than 100 people who have ever seen the ship from beneath the surface.

Before donning their Compressed Air Breathing Apparatuses, the group was taken to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, a large white shrine situated in the middle of the harbor, to pay their respects and more fully understand the story of USS Arizona, located in the water almost directly beneath the memorial.

The group dove about eight metres into the green waters, working with about 10 to 15 feet of visibility to view the ship, which stands upright on the ocean floor.

“I felt shock and awe that I was even down there, because this dive had been scheduled and cancelled at the last minute at previous RIMPACs due to the sheer magnitude of the dive,” says LS Falletta. “So to be honest, up until I had my tanks on, there was still a part of me that thought it might get cancelled.”

As the group swam closer to the ship’s prow, LS Falletta says coral and other sea life was visible growing on the ship’s side, visible in the sunlight filtering down from the ocean’s surface above them.

“We weren’t allowed to actually touch vessel,” he says.

However, the group had clear views of a large gun, and where the bomb hit on that fateful day.

“It was an honour to view the ship, and to have the privilege of diving on a piece of history,” says LS Falletta. “Being part of the first group of international divers to ever see it reveals the interoperability of the Canadian military to work with other countries, and shows how the Americans can trust their partner nations to dive at such a sacred site.”

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