COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – For the first time in 45 years, the heart-pounding hydroplane races are coming back to Lake Coeur D'Alene this weekend, with H1 unlimited boats racing at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. But with the big race comes big risk.
"We've had in the last two races, I think, three boats go over, but that's kind of rare," H1 Director Of Rescue Dennis Olsen told KHQ's Kelsey Watts. That's why every boat driver – and rescue diver – has to go through an underwater capsule test simulating a crash.
The drivers have to practice getting themselves out safely in case their boat crashes and flips upside down in the water. Likewise, rescue divers take turns playing ‘drivers' in the capsule and have to rescue each other.
"It's totally disorienting when you first hit the water, and it's coming from the wrong direction, you're upside down and the water's flooding your face," rescue diver Jerry Robinson said after his first capsule test, adding that the 30 seconds underwater felt like five minutes.
"It felt a lot like a roller coaster," Jeremyah Polito with Diversified Diver Specialties explained. "I could feel [the capsule] slowly sinking, and then when they popped the hatch I actually felt it settle, and somebody reached up and grabbed my harness, and unclipped me, unbuckled me."
The capsule training was done in a nearby hotel pool on Wednesday and Thursday – where the conditions are far more calm than they will be on the lake waters come race day. The training gives experienced divers who follow the race circuit the chance to train with local divers from Coeur D'Alene, Kootenai County, Montana and Tri-Cities.
In a real crash, the boat drivers can usually get themselves out before rescue divers arrive – but that's not always the case. "Occasionally they get tangled up or they get knocked a little loopy from the impact and we have to get them out," Olsen added. "Hopefully we're going to be on scene within 15-30 seconds and can get the driver out in another 30 seconds."
On race day, the drivers will be on air-tanks to give them extra time should something go wrong. And while the rescue divers hope they won't be needed this weekend, they'll be ready. "With all the things I've done in life, that was fun," Polito added, smiling.