Recapping Bering Sea Gold, Under the Ice from Friday, September 14...
The return of seagulls off Nome's coast, brings the beginning of the 5 ft thick ice meltdown. Although the ice does not completely melt until around the first week in June every summer, it begins to melt months sooner, slowly weakening the support for heavy ice diving equipment. The ominous sign of bubbles start to actively appear atop the ice of the underwater dive sites, indicating a near cease of operations for the season.
"The air bubbles we are making while diving are traveling 5 ft through this ice", as described by Jesse Strickling, a diver on The Lazy Gator. Jesse and The Lazy Gator crew are running their dive operation around the clock, leaving them all exhausted. This episode Jesse goes diving on 30 minutes of sleep over a two day span, and experiences the unexpected. As the ice melts it also forms 'ice chandeliers' that are jagged ice crystals dangling downward from the ceiling. Jesse's air hose becomes tangled around some of the crystals, taking him an extra five minutes to free himself from, delaying his rise to the surface. His teammate inadvertently falls asleep on duty, and is of no help when Jesse calls for him from under the ice.
"The idea of going into subzero temperatures in a hole and it's the only way in or out..I just gotta be confident in my ability to do it." Jesse Strickling, Diver on The Lazy Gator
The Shamrock crew is also operating long hours, and are feeling the drain. Shawn Pomrenke gives one of his inexperienced crew mates, Phil Rode, a try at diving. Frustrated when Phil isn't suctioning much of anything, Shawn dons his wetsuit and joins him on the seafloor. Lucky for Phil, Shawn doesn't come up and purposely scare him from behind (it IS open ocean, and any number of large fish COULD be passing by looking for a quick meal). Phil finally gets the hang of it and puts gold in the box. "Ice diving is a bit like driving a car in Fairbanks," he says. (???) Perhaps he made that statement during a hypothermic state of mind... Shawn decides that Phil did his best and will allow him a couple of more dives while the 'getting of gold' is still good.
Zeke Tenhoff experiences a VERY close call after he goes under the ice and loses his weight belt. The sudden loss of 100 lbs that he needs to keep him on the seafloor quickly becomes a problem causing him to rise to the surface and be pinned to the ice ceiling. Anxious to find the hole to the outside, he desperately bangs at the ice hoping that Emily will hear his cries for help. He finally finds the opening and realizes his brush with death. "If I lost my air hose by chance down there, I would have drowned just then," he told Emily... Knowing he needs weight to return to the seafloor, Steve and Emily Riedel devise a plan to get him there. They place rocks that have been sucked into the sluice box into a bag that Zeke will use as weight. This enables Zeke to descend to the bottom, retrieve his weight belt and resume dive operations. He's 'on the gold' and there's no time to lose.
In the end, Zeke and Steve make amends, as Zeke realizes what a tremendous resource he has in the people he's chosen, and who WANT to work on The Clark. They both get GOLD STARS this week.