The almost 70-year-old unexploded ordnance (UXO) found by a citizen in Kal Lake Monday was safely exploded Friday by professionals.
A 12-man team from Canadian Fleet Pacific out of Esquimalt, including a five-man dive team, five-man sonar sweep squad and two support crew, found what Lt.-(N) Mike St. Pierre described as a, “typical Commonwealth Second World War mortar,” Friday morning in 12 feet of water about 100-feet off-shore from Cosens Bay, then disposed of the ordnance.
“It was a live mortar and you never want to play with any ordnance,” said St. Pierre to a group of media gathered at the Kekuli Bay boat launch Friday afternoon.
“It was about six inches long and the diameter of about a baseball with fins on it. We transported it to the military base (army camp), placed explosives on it and we blew it up. That’s the safest way of getting rid of it and ensuring it’s out of harm’s way.”
Leading Seaman Marcel Croteau was the diver who safely guided the ordnance out of the water.
He went down and did a standard search procedure called a circle search. However, said Croteau, it was after the search that he spotted the mortar.
“I just caught it with my eye after I was finished,” said Croteau. “It’s quite small and hard to see with the naked eye.”
Without touching the shell, Croteau tied a line around it, surfaced and got out of the water to be safe. From a remote location, the shell was pulled slowly from the sand. Once Croteau confirmed it was out of the lake bottom, the crew carefully took it to the army camp for disposal.
In all, it took about eight man hours from start to finish to find the ordnance.
Military crews were guided by the civilian who found it on Monday, Justin Hildebrand, a trained diver and a free diver who happened to spot the ordnance doing a dive off of his Sea-Doo at about 2 p.m. Monday.
“He found it by breath holding, which is exceptional,” said St. Pierre. “The average member of the public likely wouldn’t have found it. It was like finding a needle in a haystack, especially the amount exposed. He was lucky to find it.”
Hildebrand immediately called the RCMP, who got in touch with the military police. They are the ones who called Canadian Fleet Pacific.
“He did a great job,” said St. Pierre of Hildebrand.
The team was asked to not only find and dispose of the ordnance, but make sure the area was safe for all boaters and swimmers.
Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Dave Ostropolski is part of the five-man side scan sonar sweep crew, who used a lot of remote equipment to look for more shells.
“We’ve already cruised around Cosens Bay at about the 15-metre (40-foot) mark on either side,” said Ostropolski. “The bay looks like the surrounding hills: a few rocky outcroppings, a few nice sandy bottom spots and a few trees.
“We have seen nothing else so far.”
Added St. Pierre: “We’re going to check for more because you never know what’s there. It’s a beautiful lake and it’s definitely a safe lake.
“We’ve been tasked to not only deal with the UXO but demonstrate to the public that we’re taking active measure to ensure everyone has a great summer.”
The crew was going to be checking areas between 15-metres deep and the high water mark of the lake.