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5 Ways ROVs Help the Experts Improve Their Search and Recovery Response Times

Rachel Doornekamp   |   July 7, 2020

There are a wide range of applications for Deep Trekker’s Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and crawlers. From aquaculture, commercial diving, ocean science and maritime industries to infrastructure, energy, municipalities and defense, Deep Trekker’s machines are versatile and capable. In addition to these industries, Deep Trekker ROVs have proven themselves as effective and useful tools for search and recovery teams. Specializing in identifying targets of interest, victim and evidence recovery, and rapid search response, a Deep Trekker ROV can enhance and assist search and recovery teams.

When time is of the most importance, Deep Trekker ROVs have eyes in the water in seconds. In time sensitive situations, the ROV provides real-time visuals. Add-on sonar allows for accurate and effective navigation in the turbid waters. Tailor-made tools such as additional lighting or grabber arms allow teams to retrieve victims or evidence.

The easily transportable and deployable robots allow teams to work effectively in remote and difficult locations. In an industry as potentially dangerous as search and recovery, the assistance provided by an ROV keeps divers safe and out of precarious situations.

Target Identification Process

One of the most time consuming processes in search and recovery is the location and identification of targets, be that victims or evidence. Emergency response teams can face varying and difficult situations like large, open water conditions. Sonar provides teams with an effective solution for sweeping large areas for targets.

“One of the things we’ve tried to implement in our program is a methodical approach to search and recovery. We set up grids on the boat...we typically try to run in 90 degree angles, sonar does not like to run in circles,” explained Shane Seagroves, Director of Emergency Services, Lee County, NC.

“We’ll start with a pattern running parallel to the shore. If we’ve got a search area we try to get out of that search area, maybe 200, 300 yards away from that...we will then do the same thing running perpendicular to the shore,” said Seagroves. “If you try to focus on one point you will develop tunnel vision and you can end up wasting a lot of time searching one area.”

After scanning the area, the Lee County Emergency Services Team rates the targets on the bottom in terms of likelihood of a match. Using the ROV, the team quickly and safely checks the targets. “You take the ROV and you can find your target pretty easily down on the bottom,” noted Seagroves. “We identify the target with the boat, so we’re using the ROV instead of having to do hops with the divers. We deploy the ROV from the boat, verify the target yes or no.”

Using the ROV for target identification allows teams to be quick and effective. Not only are divers kept safe, but the ROV can be deployed in minutes to dive safely and efficiently to deep depths without the need for additional decompression time.

Using the ROV for target identification purposes has changed the game for Seagroves, “that’s a long way from 25 years go when we were diving in black water and basically just feeling around the bottom.”

Using the ROV allows for response teams to use their time effectively and identify targets swiftly and accurately.

Identification in Icy Conditions

Special Agent Glenn Lang of Maine State Police uses his ROV in a similar manner to Seagroves, however being based in Maine means that Lang can often have cold, icy conditions to contend with.

In this case the ROV is used in lieu of side scan sonar to both search for and then identify targets. As side scan sonar is not an option on an icy lake, Lang runs search patterns for targets in a similar manner to Seagroves. Starting from a hole made in the ice, Lang directs the ROV in a spokes pattern to accurately cover the area.

“We keep our runs on the spokes fairly short, maybe 100 or 200 feet as opposed to really reaching out there,” he noted.

Using the ROV allows Lang to get eyes underwater quickly and safely to conveniently search for and subsequently identify targets.

Victim Recovery

In addition to using ROVs to efficiently search for and identify targets, the underwater vehicles can make recovery faster.

Once the target has been identified as the victim, they must be retrieved in a respectful and safe manner. “We attach the ROV to the target and have the diver go down and do the recovery,” explained Seagroves.

Ashton Davis of Houston County Rescue also uses their ROV to make recovery both quick and safe. In the case of Kelsey Starling, the team deliberately wrapped the DTG3 around the nearest tree to use as their diving guide line. In this case Davis noted that, “having a tether really helps.”

“By far the best piece of equipment other than divers is this ROV,” shared Davis, adding that the work possible with both human divers and an ROV makes for an ideal search and recovery team. The battery life allowed for long searches in deep and potentially dangerous waters without unnecessarily tiring divers, while the sophisticated camera provided searchers with a high quality view in waters with varying visibility.

By attaching the ROV to the target, divers are guidely safely to the target and are able to complete recoveries in a timely manner.

Evidence Recovery

Lang has also encountered numerous occasions in which recovery of a vehicle, such as an ATV or snowmobile was required. While target identification remains the same, recovery differs greatly. “We’ve got a lifter of sorts,” said Lang. “That lifter brings whatever we find to the surface either by attaching the ROV to it or using the ROV to attach a hook to it.”

Not only does the use of ROVs for recovery keep divers safe in precarious conditions but it allows for efficient recovery.

The Deep Trekker Difference

Deep Trekker’s battery powered vehicles are easily portable and quick to deploy, allowing teams to make the most of their time underwater.

“I’ve been on recoveries where we look for two or three days,” said Seagroves. “We’re trying to get away from that, we’re trying to bring closure to the families quicker and make it safer for the divers...This has definitely made it safer and a whole lot faster process for us.”

Seagroves described a time when the use of an ROV helped to greatly expedite the search and recovery process.

“There were two drownings, 30 miles apart, within two days. They call me to go to the first one. My first pass with the boat I got a good image...took the ROV down and verified the target, attached the ROV to his bathing suit. The diver went into the water, followed the tether down and the victim was in a body bag and back in the boat literally maximum 15 minutes after the diver first penetrated the surface of the water. That’s success. You’re getting closure to the family, you’re dropping the risk factor for the divers and you’re not keeping people on the water all day. The second drowning we were not called to go up there..they were on the 6 o’clock evening news via a helicopter flying over them and they were doing dragging operations in the cove...that was a 24, 30 hour recovery on a victim that was in a cove. Our recovery was less than an hour, they spent 30 hours out there.”

Lang also noted an occasion where he was able to locate and recover a vehicle in a timely fashion. On February 1 on Crawford Pond in Warren, Maine, two ATV riders unfortunately drove out into a dangerous area of open water. Safely and efficiently rescued by the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and the Maine Warden Service, both riders were unharmed however the ATV was lost underwater.

Covering an area of 596 acres with a maximum depth of 57 feet, Crawford Pond is a tough spot to find a sunken ATV in. Police had a flat-bottomed jon boat to retrieve the ATV with, however actually finding the sunken vehicle would require more than that.

In lieu of sending down a diver into dangerous conditions to confirm the location of the vehicle, the team opted to send in the DTG3. Using the ROV’s 4k camera, Lang was able to find the ATV within half an hour.

Once the location of the ATV was confirmed by the ROV, the DTG3 was used to tie a slipknot onto the sunken vehicle to allow it to be pulled from the water. Without the ROV the time and resources needed to actually locate the ATV would have been far greater.

You can read more about Lang’s ATV recovery in Crawford Lake in our Customer Success Story.

Learn more about the use of sonar in Sonar for Search and Recovery ROVs. You can also learn more about how Deep Trekker ROVs have been used in search and recovery in our Search and Recovery 2019 Wrap Up.

As always, our team of industry experts is available to answer any further questions you may have! If you’re ready to get a vehicle of your own you can get your own customized quote today!