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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The High-Tech Search for a Dead Diver in a Quarry

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

You would think it would be easy to find the body of a dead diver in a relatively small quarry compared to a vast ocean, right? Think again. Consider the search for diver Daren Gray of Spring Hill, TN. After he disappeared while diving a quarry in Pelham, AL, it took six days to find his body. Gray, 49, a very experienced diver with a solo certification, started out on a solo dive with a rebreather on Saturday afternoon, October 25, but he was reported missing two hours later after failing to check in with dive staff.

More than 200 volunteers from 20-plus agencies helped in the search over that week, but their only evidence was a piece of Gray's lift bag in the quarry found on Tuesday afternoon, at 105 feet. The lift bag was on a ledge with about a 45-degree angle, so searchers began looking above and below the area, but visibility was less than five feet in those deep parts of the quarry.

The reason Gray was found was due to a high-tech, sector-scan sonar system on loan from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "It gave us the opportunity, or the ability, to basically look at the bottom surfaces of the quarry, some of the areas where we [were] unable to have the visibility to be able to see what was there," Pelham Fire Department Deputy Chief Blair Sides told reporters. "We had technical divers who were basically working just a couple of feet of visibility. This high-tech piece of equipment would just paint a picture of the area."

Searchers used a five-gallon concrete bucket in areas of interest with the sonar system's help. The bucket helped pinpoint the exact locations on the sonar. The first site did not yield a positive result, but the second site led to the discovery. "In just a matter of a few hours, it had a couple of signatures we felt were pretty promising," Sides said. "We put a couple of technical divers in the area and were able to locate the body. We could have not have completed the operation without this piece of equipment."

Authorities say Gray's body, which was found at 72 feet, showed no signs of foul play. They're not sure whether it was diver error or equipment error, so they closed the investigation, calling Gray's death accidental.

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