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. (Watch video in link)
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!
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!