Underwater recovery team conducts dive operation

For the second time in two years, the RCMP’s dive team has visited the Wadena News readership area due to the possibility of finding a body after a vehicle accident. On the morning of May 9, the RCMP underwater recovery team (URT) of Todd Kaufmann, Peter Rhead and James Diemert met early with Cpl. Sandy Reed of the Kelvington RCMP detachment. By 9 a.m. the convoy – consisting of the URT with truck and trailer, Cpl. Reed in the RCMP truck, and a Wadena News reporter – headed for the parking lot at Nawigizigweyas Education Centre on Yellow Quill First Nation, the closest on-road point to the dive location.

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Members of the RCMP underwater recovery team (URT) Todd Kaufmann (in front) and James Diemert unload gear at the rendezvous point.

They were met by Kelvington emergency medical technicians (EMT) Trevor Lowey and Janice Housden and joined later by EMT Stephanie Turkenburg, all divers. Lowey, a dive instructor, was particularly interested in the workings and equipment used by the team. Const. Mark Valgardson from the Rose Valley detachment arrived later and assisted in transporting personnel to and from the rendezvous point, as the off-road trail to the edge of the lake was too soft for the URT’s truck and trailer to go any further.

Earlier in the week, a partially submerged truck had been reported. It was about 50 feet from shore, down a steep incline into Nut Lake. Although preliminary investigation revealed the truck may have entered the water during the winter and it appeared there was no body in the vehicle, RCMP nevertheless needed to confirm this and identify the vehicle.

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Rhead conducts a safety inspection of the dive equipment before the team descends a moderately steep incline to where the partially submerged truck was reported earlier in the week.

Kaufmann, whose “day” job is with the traffic division out of Regina, along with Rhead of the Ft. Qu’Appelle detachment and Diemert of Moose Jaw, are the only members of Saskatchewan’s RCMP underwater recovery team. In May 2012 the team, along with a host of volunteers, searched for the body of Beverly Ann Cyr, whose truck had plunged into Milligan Creek south of Wadena. Two of the current members were involved in that search. Sadly, after a gruelling four-day search, her body was found about six kilometres downstream from where her truck was discovered. Fortunately, this time the results were not so tragic.

Because the trail to the Nut Lake site cut through a field behind the school, Cpl. Reed drove Rhead to the site for an initial assessment. It was decided that the divers would suit up, then load all the gear into Cpl. Reed’s four-wheel-drive in order to get past the muddy areas in the field. At about 10 a.m. and after a standard safety check, the team descended to the marshy shore to begin the dive.

IMG_6130Communications were tested and Diemert waded into the water.

According to Kaufmann, the team takes turns at the different posts.

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This time it was Diemert’s turn to take to the water while Kaufmann remained on shore as the safety diver.

IMG_6129Rhead, the dive-site supervisor, took notes and manned the communications line that allowed a two-way conversation with Diemert as he described what he was finding.

Once it was determined there was no body in the vehicle and an attempt was made to recover the VIN or a licence plate number, the deliberate task of searching for a body in the area around the truck resumed.

As the “lake” was more marsh than fresh water, Diemert could not see clearly while submerged. Kaufmann indicated to the News that to find anything, Diemert would have to use a slow up-and-down patting motion under the water to feel for a body in the event one had fallen out of or drifted away from the truck. Circling slowly around the truck in an eight- to 10-foot radius, Diemert completed the search. Having done all he could, he returned to shore and the team conducted a thorough land search for evidence in both directions along the shore. Valgardson and Lowey examined the area that may have been the point of entrance at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. By about 11:30 a.m. the search was complete.

It was suspected that the truck had been reported stolen from the Rose Valley area about a year earlier and had been either rolled or driven onto the lake while it was still frozen. There were no keys found.

Kaufmann told the News that the RCMP URT team conducts 20 to 30 dives a year, an increase from previous years. The increased activity is a result of the quickly growing general population of Saskatchewan and, with this, the growth of the younger population. “Many of the younger people in Saskatchewan do not know how to swim and this, coupled with alcohol consumption and water, makes a deadly mix,” added Kaufman.

The dive team also assists RCMP in other provinces, said Rhead. The team has gone to dives in Alberta and to the Northwest Territories, as they are trained to federal standards and therefore able to assist anywhere in Canada.

Although identifiable, the black Ford Explorer Sport Trac now depends on the local tow-truck driver to retrieve it from the lake.

By Alison Squires

Wadena News

306.338.2133.

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