After arriving in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I rented a car and drove to the headquarters of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to meet up with Law Enforcement Ranger, Mike Croll. After he showed me the dive locker, he gave me a tour of the park while telling me about his job there. Mike has been working at Delaware Water Gap for over 20 years and has a wealth of knowledge about the resources and extensive experience working Law Enforcement in the park. The Law Enforcement division at Delaware Water Gap differs from other parks I’ve been to this summer because some of their rangers also work as park divers. These rangers are trained to retrieve lost bodies with the use of scuba. Some parks rely on external agencies for this, however, at Delaware Water Gap the logistical circumstances and response times of other agencies make it a necessary responsibility of the Delaware Water Gap dive team.
Since it is not the most pleasant job, the dive team members cope by focusing on the most important reason they are doing it: returning the missing person is essential for family and friends to have closure and start the process of grieving a death. While not everyone is suited for this job, it must be done for the sake of those who care about the person. One of the more difficult things that Mike explained to me was that while they try to stay emotionally disconnected while searching for the body, they are also involved in notifying the families which requires a deeper level of compassion.
The following day I made a dive on the only cultural resource in the river, a boxcar that fell into the river from a train wreck at Kittatinny point. This also served as a checkout dive to familiarize myself with the river conditions. The water was clearer than at the St. Croix, and much warmer than Isle Royale, so I considered it to be a nice dive. Also, I was surprised by the amount of fish I saw while down there. On the next dive I practiced navigation in the current. I did this by taking a compass bearing on a point a little farther up river from where I wanted to end up on the opposite side of the river, and swimming towards it underwater. I was surprised at how accurately it worked even in a current and I was right on my target.
The next day, I participated in a training that was held for the divers to refresh their search and recovery skills. Mike created a mock drowning scenario by dropping a dummy body in the river and acted as a witness. It was my job to interview the witness and get a “point last seen” in order to mark a place to begin searching. Mike told me that multiple witnesses are helpful, but the quality of information that the witnesses give is more important. For example, it would be a very traumatic experience for someone who was connected to the victim to watch the event take place, therefore their perception of the experience may be altered. However, someone unrelated who happened to see it may give better information. Factors such as the vantage point, currents, and other circumstances may also affect where the body may be found. However, the most important factor is the safety of the dive team. Since drownings often occur in swifter conditions, it is the crucial to evaluate the scene to determine whether or not is appropriate at that time to put divers in the water and conduct a search. Although it is important to find the person as quickly as possible, it is not worth risking the lives of the recovery team.
Also, divers use full face masks and two way communications like the ones used at the Channel Islands and the USS Arizona for safety purposes. The support team on the boat can speak with the divers to guide them in their search. Additionally, when the body is found, those on the boat are alerted and can prepare to bring it up. Another advantage to the mask is that it protects the divers against contamination from the person they are bringing up, who may have been in the river for an extended period of time.
After we marked the point last seen with a buoy, the divers swam to it and performed a search by drifting in the current while feeling along the bottom. Because the currents make entering and exiting the boat difficult with full scuba gear in deeper water, all of the dives were conducted from the shore. The divers found the dummy body on the third drift near the buoy, and brought it to the boat where we pulled it out of the water. If they had not found the body after a few drift dives, then systematic search patterns involving ropes would be used to comb the bottom of the river until an area could be considered “cleared” and the body was not there. If the body drifted significantly, this could be a particularly arduous task. Searching every surface of the bottom in a wide river in low visibility can take weeks and is discouraging for divers, especially while trying to help the family of the victim.
Although I learned that it is not necessarily something that I am cut out to do, I appreciate the courage of those who perform this service for the benefit of the people who need it most-the families who are mourning the loss of a loved one. My goal during this summer internship was to experience the diversity of diving that is executed by the National Park Service. Visiting the Delaware Water Gap taught me about a type of diving that I had not yet experienced, Law Enforcement diving. I would like to give a sincere thank you to Mike Croll, Bill Weber, Andy Olexon, Chris Kross, and Eric Lisnick for teaching me about the service that they do there.