As you probably know from earlier posts like: That water is deep…almost as deep as those misconceptions; that I find a lot of entertainment in what I do. A certain January evening was no exception.
I was out with some SRD divers who were training with me down here in Miami, at a canal that we frequently find cars in. It was late afternoon and the searching was coming to an end for the day. I checked in with the last team at the end of the canal and asked what they had discovered in their search area.
The team had been doing a parallel search, so there had only been one diver in the water. The diver then proceeded to tell me about all the random garbage and nick-knacks he found on the bottom. He got to the end of his list of findings when he hesitated for a moment and then said, trying to sound confident, “I also found a Jet-ski…………with wheels.”
Now I have learned that when someone tries to explain something that is out of the norm to others who have never seen it; those that have never seen said item, become instant experts on it. It’s basically a sport. People start forming teams by recruiting others to their view. Wild ideas are now simple logic, and suddenly the only person who has actually come in contact with the object of interest, is the only person who is wrong.
So pretty much with the divers comment, this was shaping up to be a big enough event that ESPN2 should probably send out a van and crew to cover it.
“I’m sorry. I thought you said it’s a Jet-ski with wheels.” I said this thinking he was just making up something for all of us to have a good laugh at. After all, that’s my kind of humor. “Um, yeah…it’s a Jet-ski…with wheels.”
I have a rule with my company. There is to be no shouting at the surface between divers and surface support while on an operation. Even if you’re at the other side of the lake, you handle all your discussions close enough to whisper if need be. It’s just plain professional. There is no need to be yelling all over the place, especially if you’re dealing with a sensitive situation like a body recovery.
So this being the rule, I called the diver to the waters edge and asked again what he had found.
The audience at the time was myself, the Lieutenant from the auto theft division, and an special agent from an insurance firm. So, in the interest of not having the diver embarrass himself, I called him over close and asked what it was he saw. He repeated his answer doing his best to sound like he wasn’t second guessing himself. “I’m not crazy Jordan. It’s a jet-ski with wheels.” I told him to go down again and confirm his claim.
Now while he was down, another unit pulled up and two officers joined the discussion of the mystery vehicle. Some said it was on it’s trailer. Others said it was probably a go-cart. The Lt. said it was a Quad (Four wheeler) because they would come out in that area and ride around. I was the team captain for the “On a trailer” team.
After about 5 minutes, the diver surfaced and came over to an eager group of experts just waiting for their moment to tell all the non-believers, I TOLD YOU SO!
Unfortunately the story was the same, and the diver was more confidant now. He explained how he had investigated the USO (unidentified sunken object) and described again in more detail about how it was a Jet-ski with wheels.
So with my new found assurance that I was right, and with the encouragement of my newly drafted teammates, I told the diver to go down once more and look for the trailer. I then gave him a quick lesson on how to tell if it’s a trailer underwater and off he went.
Now the above water scene is down right hilarious. We have the original characters, plus those 2 officers, plus another 3 officers. Also the tow truck is on it’s way. Unnecessary you say? Well we can’t just leave all those people in suspense!
So once more the diver surfaces, spit’s out his regulator, and just starts smiling! “I knew it! I was right! It’s on it’s trailer.” I said to the Lt. as I nudged him with my elbow.
Ok, this guy is on his own now!!! No more trying to bail him out of embarrassment! He will just have to learn his lesson the hard way! Some diver he’ll turn out to be. Can’t even identify a trailer underwater!!!
The tow truck showed up. Bet’s were placed and battle lines were drawn. The moment of truth had arrived.
And here it comes…
It’s on it’s trailer I tell you…
A little further…
It’s a…it’s a……..What the….
Well then. It’s a Jet-ski………………..with wheels.
I know the picture is as blurry as one of Sasquatch, but it’s real. That right there my friends is why I love my job! You just never know what you might find!
Apparently, the engineer who created this beauty, had taken out the motor and everything else inside, and installed something similar to a go-cart frame. There was no seat and no engine, but I bet that thing rolled down hill like a champ!
This has gone down in my memory books as one of my favorite recoveries. It’s also the favorite of all those “experts” that were on scene as well. It’s times like these that remind us that we only know what we know. And I know now, there was no trailer. Maybe next time team. Maybe next time.
Search negatively my friends,
I had been a Special Response Diver for only 4 weeks. I was about to move into my 3rd phase of training at the International Alert Academy. I had chosen to go into Aquatic Operations as my specialty and it was the Friday before we were to start. We had just finished our end-of-ERT training ceremony and promotions and were ready to kick it back for the weekend, when the training officer over Aquatics, came up to those of us that would be going into his unit and said, “Pack your bags boys, we leave in the morning. We’re getting deployed to help with a body search that’s part of a murder investigation.”
After myself and the other guys had a mild heart attack from excitement, we tried to act cool and put on faces that said whatever, it’s just another day in the office. But who were we kidding?! This was the ultimate call out! We would be putting all that training to the test!
All through our training in Miami, we had found cars that were either stolen or insurance fraud. But this was huge! We were heading to Lubbock, Texas to assist the local Sheriff there. The whole trip out there, we thought about what our Instructor had taught us about searching for a drowned person or murder victim. “You never find a body. Bodies find you.” Cool as cucumbers. Ok, maybe cucumbers in a microwave.
We showed up to a very warm welcome from the requesting agency, who was just happy to have body’s there for this work. As we pulled up to the marina that was the staging area, we noticed a few other divers that would be coming out with us. We were told that these were Public Safety Divers who had been diving for many years. Great. Our first public performance, and now we have to deal with the pressure of impressing these veterans with all the stuff we think we know.
Our team of greenhorns quickly learned a valuable lesson. Don’t be intimidated because of titles. Let me explain what gave us this revelation.
First let me explain these two men that were gearing up with us. One guy was 6’2″ and probably weighed about 350 pounds. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. While putting on his wetsuit, through his grunts and groans, and winded banter, was telling us about how his wetsuit was custom made because he was so big. It cost him over $600 for this thing, and was a wonderfully bright yellow and red with purple accents. He was so proud! He needed almost 40 pounds on his weight belt!
His partner was next to him putting on the most complicated looking harness I’ve ever seen. One of my teammates asked him why he had so many knives and shears. He proudly answered that they never get in the water without a minimum of 5 cutting tools. You know…in case you drop the first 4 trying to cut your way out of the giant fishing line factory you plan on swimming into down there.
So as these two gentlemen were putting on their rescue helmets (again, not joking) we boarded the boat and set off to search.
The lake we were searching was not really deep in the search areas. Sometimes it was only 2-4 feet deep, but it still had to be searched. Where this lake lacked in depth, it made up for in vegetative growth. A lot of saw grass and decomposing saw grass root balls were along the bottom in our search areas.
You may be asking yourself right now why this is important. To most experienced Public Safety Divers it’s not really important; however to a straight up newbie it is. You see, the visibility was about 8 inches, and every time my hand touched one of these decomposing root balls my thought process would go something
“Ahhh I found a body!”
*Realizes it’s just a root ball*
“Woohoo! It’s not a dead body!”
*While pulling out regulator from esophagus comes to realization*
“Crap. Now I have to keep searching.”
So for two days this went on. We did not locate the victim, but we did recover a shotgun that was used in a different homicide. To say the least we learned a lot! Our first call out taught us some things that only the real world of public safety diving could teach us.
1st – We learned that just because they have a bunch of cool toys and expensive wetsuits, does not mean they are good divers. Their methods and equipment prevented them from searching effectively and efficiently. Don’t feel like you have to impress anyone. Just do your job and let others decide by your actions if you’re good enough.
2nd – Just because you did not locate a body or a gun does not mean you failed. Remember, there are only two answers… I located the object, or, the object was not in the search area. It takes a team to cover the area we covered in those two days. And as a team we accomplished our mission.
3rd – You can still breathe out of your regulator even if it’s down your esophagus! I would not have believed it unless I had experienced it so many times. I wonder if there is a specialty card for that…
Search negatively my friends!
I hate that expression. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
You might as well say “Hey! There is no way you can do this. You will fail if you try and you are a loser!”
Well I’m not a loser. Unless it’s basketball. I’m about as good at basketball as a blind man is at charades.
It’s said that the idiom goes back to the 1600’s. Obviously they did not have proper training in search and recovery methods back then or else the saying would have never caught on.
When people lose something in a big body of water, they are surprised when I’m willing to take up the challenge. It always makes me laugh when they are surprised, because I think to myself why did they ask me if they thought it was impossible.
Several months ago I had a friend come up to me with one such challenge. He lives on a lake and was on a jet ski when he turned to sharply and fell off the jet ski. In what I’m sure was, a gloriously graceful dismount; my friends watch fell off. A very nice Invicta his family had gotten him one year for Christmas.
The lake is 1 square mile and 50 feet deep. He thought it was gone and would forever haunt the fish on the bottom of that lake.
While he was telling me about all the events leading up to the heart wrenching separation, you could almost hear the doubt intensify in his voice. “No problem” I told him. “I’ll come by later this week and find that thing.”
When I got there I asked the same questions I always ask. I was able to narrow this haystack down to a hay bail! Once I got in the water, the bottom composition informed me that the “needle” might as well have been painted bright pink.
After an hour of searching I located the watch and recovered it to the disbelief of my friend.
Don’t be so quick to see large body’s of water as haystacks. Learn to ask the right questions that will minimize the area you have to search. Work from a known to an unknown.
Search negatively my friends!
In the early stages of my company…also known as the learn the hard way stages…I received a call from a man who had lost a propeller off his boat. He had a thick Haitian accent, and was a bit hard to understand over the phone; so we agreed to meet at the waters edge on the day I was available. So I got all my gear ready and brought one of my divers out, and we met the gentleman and his brother on the edge of the Miami river in downtown Miami, Florida.
Now I had prepared my gear and my mind for a small propeller recovery. Evidently small is a relative term.
What this guy called small I called big. Like a propeller off of a freighter ship big. Well it’s a good thing I just happened to have the 2000 pound lift bag in the truck!
We then started to get more info from the two guys and learned that the were not actually around when said propeller and ship decided to go their separate ways. We also learned that the captain nor any crew were available to question, being as they were in Haiti. And to add to the fun, they were not entirely sure this was the right place on the river! Perfect. I have a 300 yard by 60 yard search area that might not even be the correct search area. Anything else? Oh yeah; there will be continuous boat traffic that will make our searching something like Frogger.
Ready, set, go at a very methodical pace. We started out doing Arc searches working from the Last Seen Point, and working up river. The ship had been waiting on the draw bridge to go up when the propeller came loose. So we judged where a ship that size would wait, factored in the length of the ship and what side the prop was on, and worked back to it’s starting destination. We spent about 2 and a half hours searching, when we finally located the object. Ok. Step one done. Now for step 2…get this bad boy up on land. We informed the brothers that we had found it and asked what they had planned as a recovery method. I was expecting a tow truck, or a crane, heck I would have been happy with a tractor. This big hunk of brass was not going to jump over that seawall on it’s own!
It was at this moment I realized how underestimating people are of raw materials and there weight. These guys wanted to pull this propeller over the seawall with 4 men and a rope. Negative ghost rider. We needed something bigger.”Well we have a forklift at the wharf!” I told them, “Great! How are we going to get it there?”
Anyone who decides to hire a random fisherman to tow an 1800 pound propeller that is attached to a 2000 pound lift bag up a river, is probably not the kind of person that should be making decisions. Well like I said before, this was in our learn the hard way stage of growth.
We finally made it to the forklift and got the propeller out. We seriously almost died twice. We also learned a lot of lessons. Like planning every detail of your mission before you start. If you are doing a hired job for a client, you need to clearly define what that job encompasses, and make it clear that you make the final decision. It is ultimately your safety. These guys had no clue what goes into recovering something like this.
In life you learn. In learning the hard way you learn a lot.