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The Search is in the Planning

A glimpse into the realities of underwater search.

Have you ever searched for something important that you dropped in the back yard? Often times when we search for things, we tend to wander around an area until we find it or give up.

But searching can be complicated. Have you tried to search for something with a group of people? How about at night? How about in an unfamiliar area? What if you weren't allowed to speak with the other people searching? And just for fun, let's make it cold, and remove the luxury of air.

Welcome to underwater recovery searching.

The CHAA Dive Recovery Team's goal is to research potential crash sites of Harvard aircraft, and then conduct underwater searches until we locate the aircraft. Once the aircraft has been found, an underwater survey is conducted before recovery operations begin.

The tasks are not simple ones. The research is a long process that requires the detailed review of a dizzying volume of information. But let's look at the actual underwater search complexities.

In principle, searching underwater doesn't seem to difficult. But to do so properly requires a great deal of preparation, training, planning, equipment and coordination.

Anytime you bring eight divers and four support people together on a project, you are certain to have lots of good ideas. So it's important to have a detailed and structured plan that will channel all of those good ideas to good use. The Recovery Team spends a great deal of time in the planning phase addressing issues such as analyzing the diving environment, bottom conditions, current, temperatures, watercraft activities and much more. We then work on our dive plans so that we can complete the safest number of dives possible in the time we have available.

Safety is critical to us. We have dedicated team members who are responsible for monitoring every diver's activities to ensure that we are working within the safe diving limits. We use this extra precaution despite the fact that every diver is experienced, trained and certified as Rescue Divers, Dive Masters, Instructors or even higher. Safety cannot be over-emphasized.

Additional logistical planning is then required to calculate the amount of air we will need, mixed gases if divers are using special mixtures of air and oxygen, the number of tanks required, equipment transportation and much more. Two day's of diving can involve over thirty tanks of air for a relatively small number of divers.

The actual dive plan outlines the depths and durations of various dives by various divers. However, for the purpose of searching, we must also have a plan for searching the area. In addition to this, we must have a method of tracking and recording the areas that have been searched already so that we make the most efficient use of our "bottom time", and so that we don't search the same areas twice.

All of this work and planning happens even before we arrive at the launch site. Then the Team needs to load the equipment on the charter, organize it carefully and ensure that spare equipment is on board in the case of a device malfunction, loss or damage.

The efforts of the Recovery Team, however, are not central to diving - they are focused on Recovery of crashed Harvards. Our priority is to search, as a team, in the dark, in the cold, in an unfamiliar area, without the ability to communicate, in an alien environment, so that we can find and recover symbols of CHAA's heritage.

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