A Minnesota search and rescue team deployed three of its VideoRay Pro 4s last week for a fatal plane crash in a Northern Minnesota lake. Two of the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were successful in recovering the victim from the wreckage.
The crash occurred around 11 p.m. on August 20 at White Iron Lake, which is located within Superior National Forest and approximately five miles from the town of Ely. The victim, a well-respected dentist from Woodbury, Minn., had left Ely Airport about 45 minutes prior to the accident, according to news reports.
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Volunteer Rescue Squad was called to assist shortly after the crash occurred, said Undersheriff Dave Phillips. By the time the team arrived, the plane’s fuselage had been located. Two Pro 4s were sent to the lake floor about 30 feet from the surface to recover the pilot. Phillips explained that it was a challenging recovery because of all the plane debris surrounding the victim.
“It wasn’t easy but the ROVs worked very well,” said Phillips, who has been with the sheriff’s office for more than 30 years.
Phillips noted that the decision to recover the body was made in part because divers were unavailable at that time of night and the waters were relatively calm. Had they waited until the next day, the water conditions may not have been as favorable, he said.
He pointed out that the multi-beam sonar on the ROVs was very helpful in identifying the debris, making it easier for the ROVs to maneuver around the wreckage.
Another Pro 4 was deployed to try to retrieve the fuselage. The debris, however, proved to be too heavy to lift for the submersible and caused some damage, Phillips noted.
The undersheriff praised the efforts of all involved, including responders from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Rescue Squad, Morse-Fall Lake Fire Department and Ely Ambulance. He also spoke respectfully of the victim.
“It sounds like he was a really great guy who was loved by family, friends and colleagues,” Phillips said. “Our prayers are with the family.”
The accident is still under investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office has a long history of working with VideoRay submersibles. They acquired their first ROV several years ago and upgraded to newer models over the years until they purchased the Pro 4s with a grant.
The rescue team, which is made up of a mix of about 20 volunteer Rescue Squad members and deputy sheriffs, trains regularly with the Pro 4s.
“When we get called for a drowning the whole team is engaged and everybody has something to do,” Phillips said.
He added that the Pro 4s have been pressed into service dozens of times since their acquisition.