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Men of depth

Dive ticket good for clams, search and rescue work

Kirsten Murphy
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (May 07/01) - David Ningeongan pops to the surface crowned in air bubbles. He offers a gloved thumbs up and is pulled onto the ice by fellow divers.

The Rankin Inlet resident was one of six participants of a Worker's Compensation Board ice diving course in Iqaluit last month.

Now certified, the divers can commercially harvest clams or search for people in some of Canada's chilliest water with WCB's blessing.

"This gives me a number of trained individuals I can call on in an emergency. At the same time it gives them new skills for underwater harvesting," said Eric Doig, Nunavut Emergency Management manager.

Doig organized the same occupational dive course for four Qikiqtarjuaq divers last year.

The approximately $6,000 per person required to run this year's course came from the Department of Community Government and Transportation and the Kakivak Association.

Students, all who had previous recreational diving experience, spent a week in the classroom studying dive tables and safety procedures. The last three weeks were spent in and down a 2.4 metre by 3 metre hole in Frobisher Bay.

"Whether rescuing a clam or a person, the techniques are similar," Doig said.

The students were from Iqaluit, Resolute Bay and Rankin Inlet.

Ningeongan said the enclosed diving conditions "freaked" him out at first, especially when he accidentally spat out his regulator and swallowed a mouthful of water.

"It was dark and you knew there was only a small hole you had to come up to," Ningeongan said.

Peter Amarualik of Resolute Bay called the lifeline reassuring.

"I was worried about the tide. We drifted a little bit but not enough to give us trouble," Amarualik said.

Dive instructor Richard Knutson flew from Vancouver to teach the course. He said ice diving has one key difference from open water diving.

"Your only access in and out of the water is through the hole you cut in the ice. If you get into an out-of-air situation you have a lifeline and follow back to the surface," Knutson said.

Iqaluit's Ben Kovic, chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, joined the course with 200 recreational dives under his belt. He's now ready to assist Doig with underwater emergencies.

"The challenging part was the search and rescue. You have to swim twice as far as the guy you're looking for," he said.