The pace of drowning victim recoveries has not let up for HEART, the Canadian underwater search and recovery squad. The team assisted with two drowning victim cases in August, with the VideoRay Pro 5 at the forefront of their efforts. That’s in addition to two recovery responses in June.
One of the recoveries in early August finally brought closure to the family of a 6-year-old Canadian boy who went missing at a lake on June 23. For the other recovery last month, it only took a matter of days to locate the 23-year-old victim.
Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team, or HEART, from southern Manitoba in Canada had been asked on June 29 to help find the boy who had drowned at Makwa Lake in Northern Saskatchewan. When the squad arrived on site, they discovered that the Grandmother’s Bay recovery team, a search-and-rescue unit which owns a VideoRay Pro 4, was also there to assist. Despite being at the lake for five days, HEART and other searchers came up empty-handed.
Manuel Maendel, one of HEART’s leaders, said they returned to the lake on July 31 to deploy a side scan sonar that they didn’t have available the first time because it needed to be repaired. Although they searched a wider area, the team’s efforts were fruitless.
“We went home having done everything we could,” Maendel said. “But I reviewed the sonar images and I came across an anomaly in the images that really caught my eye and I couldn’t get my mind off it. It was in the area where we had checked several times.”
Once again, the team made the one-way, 12-hour road trek to the lake, this time on August 5. On a hunch, Maendel said, they asked the missing boy’s brother if the boys were on the lake using makeshift rafts when the 6-year-old disappeared in the water. When their hunch was confirmed, they shifted their attention to an area where they thought one of the rafts drifted. Using side scan sonar, they came across an image.
“We anchored and put the ROV down and I picked up the anomaly pretty much right away that was about 60 feet deep,” Maendel said, noting that they were finally able to bring closure to the boy’s family with the recovery.
As a result of HEART’s involvement in this situation, search-and-recovery teams in the Saskatchewan area are pressing local and federal officials for funding to purchase equipment, such as ROVs, instead of relying on squads like HEART, which are located hundreds of miles away and aren’t always immediately available.
“The teams are already there but they lack the equipment,” Maendel explained. “So, we will put them in contact with the appropriate people to obtain similar equipment. We want other agencies to do what we do.”
Ironically, Maendel and his 19-year-old son, Brendan, ended up returning to Northern Saskatchewan August 20 for another drowning victim search, this time at Bittern Lake. The 23-year-old victim had jumped into the lake on August 15 to rescue another person who fell off a boat that he also was on, according to news reports.
Maendel said that after several hours of searching they were successful in locating and recovering the body in about 10 feet of water using the combination of side sonar and the Pro 5.
To show their appreciation, representatives from Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and the PAGC search team presented Maendel and his son with traditional jackets made by a 95-year-old elder.
Maendel noted that the Pro 5 has been used nearly a dozen times in recovery incidents since they acquired it last year.