Category Archives: Underwater Search & Recovery

Ouch! You never know what you might run into.

One of the shortfalls of becoming good at something is that you tend to forget about Murphy. It is human nature. We do things so well and are always striving to do those things faster and better, just to make lifehello my name is sign with blank white copyspace for text message

easier. However, once you cross those tactile and cognizant barriers you become open game for Mr. Murphy. I am referring to “ Murphy’s Law,” which basically says that if something can go wrong, it probably will.

 

I remember one time when I was called out at 3:00 am to respond to a single car accident where the vehicle ended up in a canal. When I arrived on the scene, the police unit and the heavy duty wrecker were already there and ready to go. Obviously, not much is happening at 3:00 am in this part of the county. It took me about fifteen minutes to arrive and my partner was still twenty minutes away. The car was sitting in about six feet of water across a thirty foot wide drainage ditch. The top of the vehicle was visible about one foot below the surface of the murky water, which was flowing past the car at about a quarter knot. (If a 1 knot current moves at 100 feet per minute, you figure it out!) Now let us reason this out logically: Five minutes to suit up, two minutes to hook up, five minutes to pull vehicle from the water, and five minutes to gear down. Once the vehicle is hooked and I am out of the water, there is no need for my partner to continue responding. Since we both had to report in at 8:00 am, this logic was a no-brainer.

 

Enter Mr. Murphy. As I began pulling the chain and hook across the  fifteen feet of no man’s land between me and the car in full SCUBA gear, I immediately realized that there was zero visibility. So I placed my outstretched hand in front of me so that I would feel the side of the car before I swam into it. After about five steps, my facemask struck something hard and immovable without warning. “OUCH!”

 

 

I had not considered the possibility of the windows being down, and as my probing hand entered the window my face introduced itself to the top of the door. (Murphy will always find a way in).   I then placed the chain around the right front wheel axle and attached the wrecker hook to the chain. I then exited the water and geared down. By the time I got back home I had developed a nice goose egg just above my right eyebrow. OUCH! You never know what you might run into.

 

-Written by Michael W. Gast

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Journey of 540 Dives

This post goes out to the dedicated and hard working men of ALERT’s Unit 51. 

I have been on the road for most of April in the great state of Texas, teaching at the International ALERT Academy.

This is one of the twice-a-year moments that I get to teach there, and it is hands down my favorite group to teach.

We cover a LOT in a very short amount of time! In just 14 days, these young men are taken from not being very confident in the water to open water, advanced open water, and then through the special response diving course. Like I said, a LOT!

There are a few reasons why I enjoy this.

  1. These guys are beast. Like Nike, they just do it. No reservations or holding back when they are told to do something- they just get it done.
  2. Big, giant, human shaped sponges. All of them are eager to learn and grow.
  3. Competent. It’s not like they just learned to dive in the ocean and now they won’t dive for another year. No.. in just these two weeks they put 20 dives under their weight belts. Most people learning to dive won’t even do that many dives in a year!
  4. Let’s not leave out comical. It’s not perfection all the time, and there are a lot of screw ups, but we have fun doing it! The difference is that these guys are willing to learn from their mistakes.

These are only a few of the many reasons I enjoy working with ALERT men. I’m also an Alumni of the Academy, so there’s that…

There is one thing that stands out the most, however, among these young men. It’s their desire to go out and do. They have a fire lit inside to take the skills that they learn and go and serve their communities and public safety departments. And that’s exactly what we need. We need the next generation of public safety divers to get excited to take on the job that is there.

An interesting shift is going on in the public safety diving world right now. It’s the shift from the experienced old salts to the young bucks. Those that have been in the world of Underwater Search & Recovery and have been successful in their craft are either moving up their respective ladders, or they are retiring. The massive amounts of knowledge and wisdom that comes only from experience also leaves with them. This is leaving a learning gap in many departments. The old is out and the new is lost and left to find help and training on their own; which often means poor training.

But it’s this fresh batch, the newbies, the rookies, the ones with that drive to get it done, that make my job a joy to do. I look forward to the future of these ALERT men and the impact they will have on their communities. Keep up the good work guys!

If you want to find out more about ALERT click HERE!

 

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I’m sorry. I thought you said it’s a…

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.

Ok, I’m sure there is a simple explanation for this. Like that it’s on it’s trailer and it has two wheels and a tongue and straps tying it down (Go team Trailer!).

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,

 

Jordan

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The positives of negative buoyancy!

Finally, some clear thinking on the importance buoyancy has in the diving community. Wait a minute, what diving community is it important to? As a matter of fact, how many diving communities are there? Why don’t you just think about those two questions while I continue with the first thought.

 

Buoyancy is all about Archimedes, who was a Greek mathematician/scientist living in the 3rd century BC.archimedes

Using scientific methods he determined that “…an object immersed in a liquid partially or totally is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the liquid displaced”.

 

Well, have you thought long enough on those two diving community questions? The answer is… understanding and mastering  Buoyancy is important in every diving community.

In the recreational diving community the attainment of Neutral buoyancy at any depth is the desired objective to be considered a competent diver. However Positive buoyancy is the most sought after and taught skill for a dive profile to have a happy conclusion. Then there is Negative buoyancy which has become the bain of sport divers and those who teach them.

 

In the Commercial diving community the knowledge, skills and abilities  (attitudes) when it comes to buoyancy is more a job for job tool and capability. That means that Positive, neutral and negative buoyancy is mission dictated and performed professionally to a successful conclusion.

In the Special Response Diving community Negative buoyancy is king! This community includes Police divers, Public Safety divers, medium_21-280213113545emergency response divers, tactical divers, military divers, forensic divers and any other group that performs underwater search and recovery missions. Believe it or not trying to find something on the bottom while neutrally buoyant is a fools errand. Now some will argue that neutral buoyancy keeps the diver from disturbing the bottom, and that may work once in a while, but if you want to find something on the bottom you must become the bottom. This is achieved only with negative buoyancy. The only way to constantly have a positive resolution to an underwater search is becoming proficient in the use of negative buoyancy.

 

Remember, in underwater search & recovery you get positive results when negative buoyancy is king!

 

Written by – Michael W. Gast

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The rise of technology, and the fall of common sense.

We got the call at about 9:30 AM. We loaded up, headed out, and arrived at a small lake that was nestled in the middle of a highway interchange. We were informed by Florida Highway Patrol that the incident had happened the night before, when a person driving a pickup truck, had lost control and driven off the interstate and gone into this lake. The driver had gotten out and was fine, but the truck was now making friends with the fishes.

I geared up and walked to the waters edge as my partner got the search line. We could see the tire tracks where the vehicle had gone in, and so using that as our LSP (Last Seen Point) we started an arc search. About 10 minutes later I located the vehicle that was, in fact, a pickup truck. It was just sitting there on all four wheels glistening in the early morning sun, about 120 feet from shore.

Well, to make this story short so I can talk on what this post is really about; we recovered the truck and all was good. But when I had come up after locating the truck, the wrecker operator was just laughing and shaking his head. He told us about a recovery he was at a few days before, where 6 off duty police officers had spent 6 hours using side scan sonar, looking for a 20 foot box truck in a 50 foot wide canal that was only 20 feet deep. He just laughed and said, “It took them 6 hours with all those guys and technology, and you two come out here, and in 10 minutes, find a pickup in a 40 foot lake with a piece of string!”

Does the title make sense now? You see where I’m going with this? Dive teams get sold on all kinds of new gadgets and gear, and pay for it by trading in there knowledge of the basic principles of Public Safety Diving. A sad side note: the amount of money these teams try to get to buy said gadgets, is money that could be used for upgrading basic equipment, or be used to pay for additional training days.

Give me money to pay a team some overtime to train with the basics, and I’ll give you better results then any piece of technology can produce. You think that’s a bold statement? Let’s take a look at a recent event in New Orleans.

I have a few things I would like to point out. First, is the amount of people who had been involved in the search. Multiple departments and volunteers assisted in looking for this missing teacher. The State Rep. in the video says that the area had been searched before but the vehicle had been missed. Now whether that was with side scan sonar or with search patterns I don’t know.

Second, is the relative closeness to shore where they located the missing teachers vehicle.

Third, there were a lot of other vehicle recovered! This tells me that they do not go into these areas regularly.

As I researched this story, I kept asking one question. Why was that car missed? If divers had been in there and they were proficient at their search patterns, why was that car not located?

We have to be careful that we are not sold into the thinking that big expensive toys make it all easier, or even more effective. You can only have one of two answers. I located the object, or the object was not in the search area. Are your search methods ingrained into your team so well that you can confidently give one of those two answers? Or do you have doubt when you get done with a search?

I’m not some stone age diver that thinks that technology will take over the world. I think that there some applications where side scan sonar is very useful. Heck, I was interviewed on the Nancy Grace Show one time about the use of side scan sonar in an investigation. In that investigation it was very helpful in locating the missing person. Things like side scan sonar and metal detectors can definitely be useful tools to assist your team, but I believe that you need to know and be able to perform effectively, the basic search patterns first!

So what I’m really trying to say is: Don’t sell your common sense to buy technology. That’s my point. Ok, I’m done.

Search negatively my friends!

 

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