I received a call last week from my Scuba Instructor, Steve. Steve has been my instructor through every stage of my diving progression. I’m even doing my DiveMaster Candidate under him. Of course, over the years, he has become more than my scuba instructor, he’s also a good friend. Steve is on the Police Force in the city just North of us. He is part of the CSI team and a member of the SWAT team. Steve asked me to put together a small team of advanced divers that were comfortable with their skills for a special dive. The dive: A small lake at a local campground to search for two murder weapons. I called 4 of my local divers. Of course, they all said yes.
Come the day of the dive, one of my divers got called in to work and another got sick, so it was just myself and one other meeting with Steve and one diver he brought. Some of Steve’s divers couldn’t make it either, so we had 4 divers and one surface support person. We met up and got to the campground around 1100 Monday morning. The campground was expecting us. They even gave us a cabin next to the lake to use as a base of operations. After gearing up, we got in the water around 1200 or so. The air temp was 66 degrees and the water surface temp was 63 degrees. Since three of us were diving wet, the 63 degree water was a bit chilly. I was layered with a 2mm shorty under a 5/7mm full with gloves and hood, so I figured I’d be ok. So, the water was cold and the bottom was the silty muck that would take your arm all the way to the elbow if you stuck it down in it. I tried to walk through it, but my foot kept getting stuck in the muck, so I finally just inflated my BC, and floated while I put on my fins. This was going to be fun.
The plan was to go down together, stay within an arm’s length and slowly work across the bottom sweeping your hands in front of you on the bottom searching for the weapons. As soon as we dropped, we knew it was going to be harder than expected. At around 8 feet, the sunlight above you disappeared. Our first touch of the bottom was at 12 feet and you could see nothing. Pitch black. You could rub your fingers on your mask and still not see them. I started moving with the plan. I had no idea about anyone else because I couldn’t see them. Then, I heard Steve’s sub-duck. We all surfaced and came up with a different plan. We’ll hold wrists, descend together and squeeze when we’re ready. Once the signal has made it all the way down the line, he would sound the sub-duck and we would move forward together. We get down, I squeeze and....Nothing. After a couple minutes, the sub-duck blows and we all surface again. Steve said that buddy teams were not going to work. And, if we were going to get anything done, we were going to have to do it solo. But, he stressed to only do it if you were completely comfortable with it. We all said yes and dropped down to do our searches. Two guys were going parallel to the long shore using a rope with the surface support and I was sweeping from one shore to the other. The cold got to one of the diver’s ears and he had to call it after about 20 minutes because he couldn’t clear. During my search, I found a coke bottle or two, a Dixie cup, a bunch of rocks and limbs and a bike flag. But no weapon. All of this was done strictly by sense of touch since there was no light. At one point, I got too close to the fountain that was in the middle of the lake and got pretty tangled up in the tethers and fishing line that was hanging off it. I was able to work my way out of without having to cut anything and just steered clear of the noise it made from that point on since I couldn’t see where it was. That was my first entanglement in zero viz I’ve ever had to deal with.
After about an hour in the water, Steve called off the search. We got out of the water and checked our computers. Max depth was 24 feet and bottom temp was a bone chilling 51 degrees. Our equipment was filthy and we were cold. And, we still had no murder weapons. Steve and I dumped our equipment into the back of a truck and we headed to the shower facility to run some hot water into our wetsuits to get our core temps back up. It worked, but a dry suit would have been really nice that day.
Although the dive didn’t find the weapons, it was a good experience for me since I have never been in that type of environment before.
Actually, Steve and the other divers all said they had never been in that bad of conditions. Steve wants to try this place again and do it with more divers, more surface support and attack it a completely different way next time.
The hap-hazard way we searched solo was a needle in a haystack situation. The next time, we will have a more defined area and way to search.