My hometown rescue squad had a mutual aid call for personnel and equipment to assist in a mass drag operation to locate a motorcyclist who had gone over the rail of a bridge crossing a large lake. I spent my time helping load equipment onto boats, stocking a converted panel van used for onsite communication and serving hot meals for search/drag missions, packing POV’s. Everything was ready we’d leave before sunrise so the boats could be launched as soon as there was enough light.
We arrived at the boat launch, things got under way, I did what I was told to do next thing I know is we’re in the boat. There was 20 boats or so. I was with two of my favorite mentors. I’m thinking this is going to be great. I’m going to get to hang out with these guys and learn how to drag for bodies. We had some snacks and cola drinks in a small cooler. We were ready to drag for a while.
This my favorite part of the experience. We get to where our boat is going to start dragging. My mentors are going over the drag and how to use it. Most of the boats were typically as I remember them, a wider Jon boat so two could sit in the middle and lower the drag over the edge, not sure how long. There I am with the drag in hand watching the guy sitting next to me put his drag into the water. He starts to lower it, I think to myself I got it, no problem.
I start to move the drag, if you’ve never seen a drag it looks like a fence stretcher without the fence hooks. In place of the fence hooks are four welded rings to tie on heavy cord attached to three prong hooks. The hooks hang down about 12″ or so. It’s cumbersome and hard to keep the lines separate. I finally get the drag into the water. I keep it at the top for a moment to get a feel for how it would handle in the water.
From behind me the other mentor operating the boat says look up. I did, I looked up over at the other boats. Not there he said, down there in front of you in the water about four or five feet away. There he was. Face down, blue jeans, leather jacket, long blond hair. The boat operator told us to get our drags in the boat. My drag hadn’t been more that a foot or so deep it was in the boat like I’d done it before. Couldn’t believe it.
Mentor sitting next to me was pulling his drag in. I was told to get ready to grab the body. It was really exciting. We’re inching our way over to the guy we came looking for as he floats next to our boat. Wow I think as grab the waistline of his jeans. “Don’t let go!” they remind me. We wait for a larger boat to come over and help remove, then transport the body to shore. All the preparation and the anticipation boiled down to our boat being on site for couldn’t have been more than ten minutes and me playing with a drag like a kid with a bobber.
There were more drag missions after that but not like that one. What an experience, it was amazing. I had some fantastic first time experiences in the rescue field. Thinking of this story reminds me of another call I responded to a few years later.
At the time there were only 2 regular rescue squad members that were SCUBA certified, I had received my certification in 1979. After having spent some time with me on emergency runs the other divers invited me to start spending time with them on projects away from the rescue squad. Projects recovering lost objects, minor underwater repairs, boat cleaning, working in open water.
They had me doing surface task. Simple things like cleaning, setting up equipment, basic stuff. They were testing me to see if I would get sick on the water and if I actually had some aptitude when the pressure is on. As time passed I was allowed to train with them in the local indoor pool. I couldn’t believe I got my parents permission. The guys came over to my home to talk with them about it. They needed help.
They had a few things in mind for me at the time. Be ready to dive if one diver was in trouble I was to dive and assist the other diver with rescue, the ability to remove a body from a car and how to hook a car for recovery by tow truck. Dam that’s a long winded way to get to the point. I have to include those details so others can see how things happen.
By now I have a station wagon and drivers license. The station wagon was a hand me down and is cool as far as I’m concerned. I’m wondering what I was going to do, it was a weekend and none of the rescue squad crews that let me respond to calls were working. I was cleaning the car when my mom called out to me to answer the phone. It didn’t sound good from the tone of her voice.
It was a rescue dispatcher asking me to report to a location in the deep boonies near the river. I was to bring all dive equipment there had been a witnessed drowning. When I arrived there were a few rescue trucks and a Jon boat pulling in ahead of me. The area was a small pond size like area that lead out to the river. I met with one of the divers and was informed the boat would be launched by hand and we’d dive for the body.
We! He said. My heart started pounding I was thinking that I don’t know anything. I’m dumb as a rock look at me get what I asked for. The other diver was not coming and they were seemed to be sure the body would be close by. My mentor wouldn’t dive alone so we put on the gear were taken to where the victim was last seen by boat.
I had an underwater light that used a lantern battery it worked good. Had a nice focused beam of light. We’re in the water, going over the plan, safety, all the important stuff. We go below the surface into black water. Visibility 12″-14″ at most. Had to be very close to see anything clearly. Since it was black water we stayed in physical contact.
On the bottom we’re feeling around when the scene from Jaws ran though my mind where Hooper happens across the body in the boat. I thought “how am I going to react when the guy with the eye popped out is going to come out of nowhere.” We were down, 30-35′ for 24 minutes when I get a tug on my arm. The other diver pulls my hand over to grab an ankle. We try to swim to the surface and have a difficult time the guy weighs maybe 250 pounds. We attach a marking line, go the surface for rope.
Once the rope is tied on the body we surface. I’m facing the direction where we parked. Perfectly framed in my dive mask are two guys, arms crossed leaning on a hearse backed up close to where they were going to load the body. There was something about that moment. When I went underwater I was looking in that direction it was all rescue equipment. On the surface a hearse and two guys waiting to load another body.
Once the body was in the hearse we rolled up our equipment and left for the station for clean up and a post-mortem of the call. The hearse guys had me going. They had that, how much longer is this going to take look. Another fun memory from way back. -13