What It's Like.... To Search for a Dead Body
By: Chuck Ford
In my heavy vulcanized rubber drysuit, I’m sweating in the heat of an early summer day. As the boat slows I brace myself, and a team member helps with my fins.
Before I enter, I look back toward the shore. I can see the family standing in a cluster, looking out at the search line marking-buoy. They’re looking at me. Under the buoy is one end of my line, which is anchored at both ends and helps me to make a more organized search. Somewhere on the bottom, in this area several acres wide, is the body of a drowning victim. Three of my teammates have moved the line through the search area and the last out carried a boot he found before his air ran low. It’s my turn.
At the buoy I make a final check to clear the gunwale and roll into the water. I grasp the downline lightly and purge, sinking into the green water. Just a couple feet down, visibility is already limited to a few inches and, as I drop feet first, I feel the first thermocline through the drysuit. My fins touch bottom and I kneel in the thick mud feeling for the search line.
After a quick communications check with the guys topside I grasp the line in my right hand, making sweeping passes with my left as I move through the stirred-up darkness. Everything I touch is investigated by feel for relevance. One object I probe wriggles in protest and my hand jerks away reflexively. Old beach chairs and tree branches are moved to the side of the line already covered.
On my fifth pass down the line, or maybe it’s the eighth — time is distorted in the isolation chamber of zero-viz — my hand bumps an object with some weight and give. A quick patdown confirms my suspicion.
Breathing and pulse kick in as I position the body and secure a line around the torso by feel and pump air into my BC. Light penetrates a few feet into the water and, just before I break the surface, I get my first glimpse at the unresponsive companion. The boat starts toward me at my thumbs-up signal.
One of the family members who had gathered near the launch begins wailing when the body bag is handed down to me, and I bag the victim on the side of the boat away from the view of news cameras and onlookers. I decline help getting into the boat and kick toward shore. It’s good to get the locate.
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