Skip to comments.Navy divers join Minn. bridge search
Posted on 08/07/2007 6:20:17 PM PDT by Dubya
An elite team of Navy divers joined the search for victims of the interstate bridge collapse Tuesday, bringing to the job lessons learned from such disasters as TWA Flight 800 and the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.
The team of 16 divers and a five-member command crew arrived a day earlier. Once their gear arrived before dawn Tuesday, several divers immediately entered the Mississippi River even though local officials encouraged them to wait until daybreak.
"Two in the morning, they dove into the water," Minneapolis Police Capt. Mike Martin said, calling them "the best divers in the world."
"These guys make our SWAT guys look humble," Martin said.
Navy Senior Chief David Nagle said the divers wanted to get a feel for the area and were in the water for about two hours. Divers were back in the river by late morning, removing concrete rebar and other debris.
Also Tuesday, state officials laid out tentative plans for the bridge reconstruction, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said his office was considering a victims' compensation fund.
The dive team's arrival raised hopes of speeding up the recovery operation. At least eight people are missing and presumed dead in last week's collapse, with perhaps more still in the river. Five people are confirmed dead.
Joining the Navy team was an FBI dive crew, doing forensic work for the investigation. Their tools included a small unmanned submarine equipped with a robotic arm. "It's basically crime-lab-underwater kind of work," Martin said.
The Navy and FBI team bring experience and technology far beyond what's been available to local search crews, who complained they have been hampered by dangerously unstable wreckage and a rapid current.
The Navy divers will be tethered to above-ground oxygen tanks, so they can stay in the water much longer than local divers, who had been using scuba tanks. Heavy-duty equipment will allow divers to cut through steel wreckage. The Navy also has sophisticated sonar to scan for bodies.
Mark Phillips, owner and publisher of PS Diver Monthly, a newsletter for public safety divers in Lumberton, Texas, called Navy divers "the big guns."
A disaster "as monumental as the Minnesota bridge collapse is going to be above and beyond any local agency's capacity, regardless of where they are," he said.
Phil Newsum, executive director of the Association of Diving Contractors International, said searching a river such as the Mississippi is tough for divers. The current can knock loose and carry pieces of debris, and it stirs up mud that makes visibility nearly zero.
The Navy team will likely use its sonar to identify objects in the river that roughly match the size of a human body.
"Their imaging technology is tremendous, but once you identify where something is, you go in and you're essentially diving by Braille," Newsum said. "You're going by feel only. That's tremendously challenging."
It's also emotionally difficult work, Newsum said. "You have to get your head right before you go down there, because you're recovering a human being."
Navy divers assisted in the reclamation of historic sunken ships including the ironclad Civil War ship the Monitor. After the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, N.Y., they made more than 700 dives to recover bodies and reclaim wreckage to help the government investigation. Navy divers recovered both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
The city asked residents to observe a moment of silence Tuesday evening at the minute the bridge fell six days earlier. Bells at churches and City Hall were to toll immediately after.
Four people still hospitalized with injuries from the collapse improved Tuesday to serious condition, leaving only one person in critical condition. About 100 people were hurt in the disaster.
State officials announced tentative plans for the replacement bridge, with five lanes each way instead of four. The new bridge also might be built to accommodate bus rapid transit or light rail in the future.
Officials said that they will start narrowing the field of potential contractors this week, and that they hope to select the builder by Sept. 1. The deal will include incentives for early completion.
But Pawlenty said the aggressive timeline - the goal is to have it open before the end of next year - won't mean corners are cut.
"We are going to get this bridge built safely, No. 1," he said at a news conference. "So we're not going to go so fast or emphasize speed that the bridge isn't done well or done correctly."
Pawlenty had no details of how a victims' fund might work, saying only that his office was exploring it.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Mark Scolforo contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that the divers arrived Monday and jumped in the river when their gear arrived, instead of the divers arriving "hours before dawn.")
If you want something done right, call the Navy.
It’s possible. But my guess would be that they are still in vehicles, under debris or tangled in rebar.
I wouldn't call it "right," neither would the Navy. Oh, there is a right way to do things, and of course the wrong way to do things. But the Navy does things the Navy way.
If I wasn’t such an over-the-hill Navy Diver, I’d love to be working alongside my commrades.
Fond memories of days gone by.
Salute to my Brothers!
I wonder what the rate of flow is?
Can it be lowered more?
Can it be channeled?
Why are the old parts still in place?
It sounds like they are going to let the mess stay there till after 1 Sep 07. At that point they will stand back and let the contractor have at it. More likely they will just select some one and dither around some more. Winter in on it’s way.
Salute to you! I did all my diving the easy way-—in a sub.
This quote was in one of my friend's staterooms. I think it applies to this situation: "The reason that the American Navy does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the Americans practice chaos on a daily basis."
Attributed to Admiral Karl Doenitz, of the German Kriegsmarine
Better watch out, now that the Military is on the scene Reid and Murtha will say we are losing.
The Navy plans on chaos with over-engineering and very strict and seemingly quirky rules.
My hobby is selecting and restoring classic, displacement vessels. Stuff such as buoy tenders, landing craft, survey vessels, etc., and including some Coast Guard stuff. In any given online ad, if I see "former US Navy vessel..." I know its got a minimum of three big engines, often four, plenty of bunkerage and pumps up the wazoo.