On Sunday, June 6th, the Co # 1 Dive Team received a call from Mahwah PD asking if our divers were available to search for a cell phone a Mahwah resident had just lost in Winter’s Pond, right under the bridge.
Happy to help, we offered to deploy a diver to quickly check under the bridge in the area the resident thought the phone went, hoping for a quick find.
The ambient temperature was over 90-degrees that day, so we limited operational time for diver safety.
After submerging, the diver discovered that the base of the spillway dam under the bridge was packed with over a foot of branches and silt, making searching difficult. Despite searching for over 30 minutes, the search was called off in favor of coming back later in the week with more resources.
On Wednesday, June 9th, the full dive team assembled for our regular drill night with the goal of sharpening our underwater searching skills and looking for the missing phone.
Little known fact, most Co #1 divers are also trained and certified as Underwater Criminal Investigators (some by more than one agency), so they are equipped with the skills necessary to locate and recover evidence in zero visibility water. That includes photographing, mapping, documenting, and packaging the evidence so it is fully admissible in criminal court.
As part of our role in the North Jersey Regional SCUBA Task Force, these specially certified divers are regularly called on by North Jersey law enforcement agencies to locate and recover criminal evidence underwater. That means an investigation does not have to stop just because the suspect threw the evidence in a lake or river.
In other words, searching for a cellphone in pitch dark water was the perfect combination of honing critical skills and positive community service.
After surveying the scene, establishing our operational plan and selecting the best search patterns to accomplish our goal, divers were again deployed under the bridge.
Because of the heavy silt and accumulated brush, each section of the dam had to be searched slowly and methodically. And with absolute pitch black water, the divers searched entirely by feel, using their hands to identify what their eyes could not see.
Within 20 minutes, Co #1 diver (and Fire Lt.) Nicholas Raia notified topside that he had located the phone under a pile of brush in approximately 5′ of water. A few moments later he surfaced holding the target.
Though ambient temperatures were again brushing 90-degrees, our divers and tenders were focused and driven to employ the techniques we have been trained in and perfected over time, and to locate the missing phone.
The resident later met us at the firehouse to retrieve the device (which is waterproof and likely still functional).
We could say “thanks for giving us something to search for” but we doubt the loss was a willing one to start with.