Sunday, April 27, 2014

Special Forces Combat Diver Assessment of the Rescue Operations in Korea

Below is a response to the South Korean Prime Minister resigning over the criticism of the rescue operation from a retired Special Forces combat diver with decades of experience.


This is a tragedy wrapped in human cultural tragedy of families who have endured a tragic and avoidable loss striking out at everyone. Rescue? From what I have seen as a military diver, the ROKN (ROK Navy) SEALS  and ROKSWC (ROK Special Warfare Command) Special Forces Combat Divers have conducted the initial rescue and then the current recovery operation beyond all human, commercial, and military expectations.
            I had one summer (every season is summer in Panama) of every young military and combat diver’s dream: Reader’s Digest version: a Russian ship collided with a Greek freighter in the Panama Canal – the Greek ship sank partially in the channel. A-15 which was the 3/7 Scuba team (and we were the Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC) Instructors – there were two CDQC schools back then), was immediately alerted by the Panama Canal Authority (US territory back then) to respond.
            It would take a week to get the professionals from Europe assembled we were told. So, we immediately made the plan to cut that large freighter deck by deck, platform by platform, section by section, and the Canal Zone’s Atlas (largest floating crane in the world at that time) would lift each deck, section, or platform up and deposit it out of the channel for later disposal. By the time the professionals got there, we had the Panama Canal channel open. All it cost the US government Canal Zone Authority was per diem, bunkers and endless pallets of C-4, a luxurious (to us) villa near the site, unlimited topside support in the day, and alcohol in the evenings.
            A non-diver and most sport divers do not realize the nightmare and danger filled puzzle which is a sunken ship. We all had much bravado topside, but inside silt filled corridors where up is down, down can be up, starboard could be port, and ZERO visibility – often lights make it worse because the silt reflects light back at one – it demands a steely composure, near insane bushido composure. There were times when one’s tether would get hung up, or it was impossible to tether in snaking corridors, right angle rooms, and jagged objects and sharp metal that could and did cut thru one’s wet suit and flesh – just think what it could do to the air lines and subsurface life support gear. There were times in zero visibility deep inside jagged obstructed corridors that one continued the mission just out of team and personal pride, every part of the normal human part of one would scream “go back”.
            And that Canal sea state was relatively calm and a child’s playground compared to the sea state near Jindo. I can only imagine the far worse state of silt inside the ferry in those fierce surface and subsurface conditions near Jindo. Undoubtedly, there is zero visibility as soon as one enters the ferry. And that is some of the worse sea state and currents of the entire West coast – which itself is notoriously bad.
            And in the Panama Canal channel, we had little tidal concerns, but there on the West coast open seas of Korea one has diurnal (4 tides a day, high high, low high, low low, high low) tides up to 40 feet! The huge and frequent tidal fluctuation effects everything one does, when one can do it, and how long one can continue doing it. And those extreme tides greatly add to the hazards and horrendous diving conditions inside the ship.
            Tethers? Just like us, there will be many parts of the Ferry where one will be untethered, confused of up and down, and port and starboard, broken jagged obstructions, etc – one studies, plans, and memorizes routes, and we all know the euphemism about the first shot or the first report in combat. These ROKN and ROKSWC divers have been Superman competent and dedicated beyond all highest expectations.
            The skill and dedication of the topside support also impresses me. This is about the worse surface conditions one can get along the coast with the weather, winds, treacherous currents, high underwater rocks, and the aforementioned tides.
            The criticism of the rescue mission – undeserved and truly sad.

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