GOLD BAR – They search murky lakes and rapid river currents for those who have disappeared below the water’s surface.
Those left standing on the shore look to the men on the Snohomish County Sheriff’s dive team to bring back those they have lost.
The divers are called out day and night, rain or sun, to search for missing anglers, boaters and swimmers.
The work is dangerous and unsettling. Often times, divers can’t see more than a few inches past their faces. They search the waters using only their hands to find a drowned swimmer or missing boater.
“It’s not easy, but we want to bring a loved one back to their family,” said dive team leader Sgt. John Flood. “We know most times they won’t be alive but at least we can give some closure.”
For that, the families are thankful, Flood said.
“It’s not something we look forward to doing, but at least this way they get to have a funeral and they know where their loved one is,” said diver John Adams.
The team is one of a few in the area and responds to all corners of the county.
Along with searching for missing people, they also can be called to hunt for discarded murder weapons or to hook up a towline to a sunken car.
“We deal with anything below the surface of the water,” Flood said.
The team is used about a dozen times a year with the majority of the calls coming in the summer months.
Deputies must have at least two years of diving experience before joining the sheriff’s team. Once accepted, they train with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The sheriff’s divers train 18 times a year.
Thursday, four divers took to the Skykomish River outside of Gold Bar to practice with Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue and Gold Bar firefighters.
The deputies used a boat tethered to a line strung across the river so they could learn to maneuver in swift currents.
The divers also worked with firefighters, teaching each other what needs to be done if a diver is ever in danger.
“This is probably the most dangerous job in the department,” Flood said.
The divers like the work, saying it’s a welcome break from patrolling the streets.
“It makes my wife happy that I’m not on the SWAT team,” diver Andy Cervarich said.
The divers keep their equipment in their own vehicles, ready to respond wherever there’s a need.
An old van rumbles as close to the water as possible, carrying extra air tanks, ropes and other equipment. The divers change in the narrow aisle in the back, which leaves little room to maneuver.
“We could use a new dive rig,” Flood said. “This thing isn’t fast or big enough for us.”
The divers often must race against the clock. The first hour is critical to finding a missing swimmer or boater alive.
Often it is too late, and most victims are missing one important thing.
“We’ve yet to recover someone wearing a (life jacket),” Flood said.
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or email@example.com.