Submersible extends search area below the waves
August 18, 2018
Lake Tahoe qualifies as a sixth great lake by volume, trailing only the Great Lakes by size.
Many searches have occurred over its entire 192 square miles during the years, and many have come up futile.
"As soon as depths start getting below that 100-foot mark, we start getting into higher risk operating with divers to conduct searches," said Steve Schultz, one of the crew of Marine 7. "A vast majority of the lake is inaccessible by humans."
That's why having a tool like a remotely operated underwater vehicle is a key to Douglas County's ability to patrol Tahoe.
Deputy Ron Skibinski said the remotely operated underwater vehicle made by Outland Technologies is capable of searching the lake all the way to its 1,600-foot bottom, something no regular diver could do.
"We were able to get a private donation for the purchase of $108,000," he said. "It will be able to do underwater searches and recovery of evidence and people."
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The submersible comes with a manipulator arm that works like a claw. It features cameras on the front a rear and a sonar unit used to fly it through the water.
An anonymous benefactor donated the funding for the ROV after an outside company came to Lake Tahoe to located the bodies of drowned victims from the summer of 2016.
"We were very dependent on an outside resource," Schultz said. "It made more sense to have a local resource. The benefactor realized this was something appropriate for community as a whole."
The submersible was available when Lake Tahoe law enforcement units searched for a man who jumped off a boat on Aug. 4.
But that occurred in relatively shallow water it was manageable by divers and cadaver dogs. Had the incident occurred further out in Lake Tahoe, the ROV would have been helpful.
Skibinski said the sheriff's office is always training on the device. A search requires Marine 7 take on two additional crew members to work the ROV.
He said searching for someone in the water is very much like searching for someone on land.
"If you have eyewitnesses see someone go under the water, that's a great point for us," he said. "Looking for a lost person in the woods is like looking for a lost person in the water, both are a gamble."
But because the submersible is not subject to the same time and depth limitations as a human diver, it can take on a larger pattern.
"That's where the ROV becomes much more helpful," Schultz said. "It's depth and time limitations are indefinite as opposed to a human resource which is severely limited by depth and time."