Following deaths at Bloomington-area quarries over the summer, the local police dive team was in the spotlight. Though the team has been around almost 20 years, the team’s tactics have changed.
When conducting an underwater search, drivers need more than trunks or a two-piece. Bloomington Police Lieutenant David Goodrich described it this way:
“Wrap yourself in the tightest clothes you can, put a black bag over your head, crawl inside your freezer, close the door, and sit there for 45 or 50 minutes, and then look for a thimble with big, thick, heavy gloves on,” he said.
At a quarry on the outskirts of Bloomington, members of the dive team hone their skills. Sergeant George Connolly leads the group in a series of exercises, practicing swimming formations that aim to make the search process more efficient. Because the water is usually murky during dives, dive team members conduct searches mostly by feel, and communicate with those on the shore by touching or tugging on a rope. Connolly said what search pattern is used depends on what the divers are looking for and what kind of water they’re swimming in.
“If we have a large area and we’re looking for a body, and we’re in rescue mode so while the sonar is being set up we can put divers in,” Connolly said. “And they form a V, kind of like geese flying, with a line going from the center to the surface and the surface swimmer guides them around the search area. That allows us to cover a large area in short time period but it only works for a large item.”
Connolly said an accident in the early 1990s at Lake Monroe showed local law enforcement they needed a new unit.
“A Community member was very upset with the response time, the agencies responding at the time were the State Police and the D-N-R were the only dive teams in this area, and their response time, because they’re spread all over the place, was very long,” he said. “Well, the family member was familiar with something called cold water near-drowning which gives you a golden hour to save a life.”
Conneley said a person submerged for an hour in cold water can still be resuscitated – hence “golden hour”. In less than 70-degree water, humans have an involuntary response called the mammalian dive reflex that allows survival even after prolonged periods of submersion. The reflex slows the heartbeat and redirects blood flow from the extremities to the heart, brain, and lungs. However, when pulled from the water, a person in this state often appears dead and requires very specialized medical care. Connolly said in some rare cases, people have been submerged much longer than an hour and fully recovered.
“The record is over four hours for, I believe it was a four-year-old child, that fell through the ice, was submerged for four hours, brought out, and a study done years later decided there was absolutely no brain damage from the incident,” he said.
Soon after the dive team’s formation in 1992, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department opened the team up to other agencies. Membership is voluntary. Interested officers can sign up, but they have to supply their own equipment and commit themselves to a rigorous training schedule. There’s also the psychological impact of pulling bodies out of the water. It’s not all gloom though — the team has recovered murder weapons, helping bring criminals to justice… and they’ve even had the opportunity to recover a missing wedding ring.