A report of a vehicle in the Ocmulgee River had been given to the Hazlehurst/Jeff Davis (Georgia) Volunteer Fire Department Dive Team by 911 operators. The dive team arrived at the scene to find only local fisherman around, but no one knew anything about a missing vehicle. After a few minutes, the local deputies arrived with the rest of the story. The reported driver of the missing vehicle had been picked up the previous Thursday night and admitted to a mental hospital. The man said he drove his new truck into the river off a local boat ramp. The deputies searched the boat ramp but could not find any evidence of a vehicle. After two days in the hospital the man seemed to be thinking more clearly, and insisted that his new truck was in the river. That’s when the dive team was called in to transition their training into operation…
On a cold and wet day 12 months earlier, Buck Buchannan of Dive911 had conducted an ERDI light salvage workshop with the Hazlehurst/Jeff Davis VFD Dive Team and Milan VFD Dive Team at Waterdog Scuba in Hazlehurst, Georgia. This was one of the first workshops with Buck’s “vehicle simulator.” This two day workshop not only taught the dive teams the “how’s and why’s” of vehicle recovery but also taught them how to recover a vehicle as safely as possible with minimal subsurface time to the diver. This ERDI light salvage course was designed by Buck Buchannan to provide public safety divers with new techniques and a unique skill set that allows for safe and fast removal of autos/light items from the water. Students gained experience using a full size automobile simulator that brought a real world feel to the workshop. As Buck says, “You don’t just simulate it, you do it.” Topics covered included rigging, remote lifting, and search techniques for new and old autos.
Now that the team had its complete story from the sheriff’s deputy, the team consisting of divers from the Hazlehurst/Jeff Davis VFD Dive Team and Milan VFD Dive Team went to work. Six team members were present: team captain, two tenders and three divers. The deputy was used as a scribe. The primary diver hooked to the tender line to make an initial sweep of the boat ramp, and then dived down to start searching. After locating the wreck, the primary diver gave three tugs to indicate to the tender that he had found the wreck. The diver then asked for more slack by giving two tugs and began his cursory search of the vehicle. The primary diver continued on, attaching his contingency line to the vehicle to make his trolley system for the wrecker. Once the line was in place the primary diver surfaced and exited the water. The dive boss turned to the deputy and asked, “where’s the wrecker?” The deputy looked perplexed at the request being made so soon. The dive boss explained, “your vehicle is at the other end of that line.” Upon arrival of the wrecker, the primary diver reentered the water and attached the wrecker cable to the vehicle’s frame, then exited the water. Total dive time combining the initial location dive and the hook-up dive – 11 minutes!
Thanks goes out to Buck Buchannan of Dive911 for the ERDI training he provided to our local teams.