WASATCH COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Shocking discoveries recently coming out of the water in Lake Mead in Nevada, may make you wonder what’s under the water here in Utah? If anyone knows the answer, it’s the Utah Department of Public Safety Dive Team. ABC4 News explores what’s under the surface, and how they find it, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
Utah’s thousands of lakes and streams are a popular draw for people who love the water, but what’s lurking underneath the surface is anybody’s guess.
“There could be anything down there, so it’s a big lake, it’s a deep lake,” said Trooper Brandon Ayer, Master Diver, Utah DPS Dive team.
This month, Lake Mead in Nevada made national headlines when shrinking water levels revealed the remains of two people, one presumed murdered and shoved into a barrel decades before, that became exposed on the shore.
“We’ve been swimming with that for the last 40 years I guess,” said one person.
Could Utah’s lakes be hiding the same disturbing discoveries? No one may know these waters better than the Utah Department of Public Safety Dive Team. It’s the job of Master Diver Brandon Ayer, and others with the team throughout the state, to scour Utah’s reservoirs.
“We’ve had quite a few callouts looking for different evidence, people throwing firearms maybe a potential homicide weapon was thrown into a canal, we’ll search for that,” said Ayer.
But many times, they’re looking for a drowning victim, which means diving into waters at all times of the year, and swimming through channels so murky it’s impossible to see.
“There’ve been times when I’ve had my hand six inches away from my face and I can barely see it,” Ayer said.
So, with the help of different sonar equipment, their dives have discovered quite a bit.
“I can’t tell you how many fishing poles we’ve pulled out of the water…you know those little RC car toys? We’ve pulled those out of the water… we found golf balls… we’ve seen all kinds of trash down there,” he said.
Ayer said once looking for a drowning victim in Wasatch County, the team discovered the bodies of other people they had no idea were there.
“I believe we were doing a call out at Strawberry and… we found multiple people we weren’t even looking for by just going down there,” said Ayer.
To help them make more of these discoveries the team now has a new underwater search and rescue robot, equipped with a camera, and meant to go where divers can’t.
“When it’s too dangerous to deploy divers, it’s too deep… recreational diving limits are 130 ft… that robot can go down about 300 meters or roughly 1,000 feet,” he said.
It can also cover far more water in significantly less time.
“It can take an hour or two by the time we gear up all our divers, get in the water, plan it, go down there… whereas now with the robot we can drop that in, search that area… I would say 10 – 20 minutes we could have this in the water searching that zone,” Ayer said.
“So, this $70,000 dollar drone is a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment, but how they operate it is like a 10-year-old kid playing video games,” said ABC4’s reporter Brian Carlson,
So, whether its utilizing drone-like gaming skills, scanning the water with sonar, or dropping divers into the depths, the state dive team believes they’re better equipped today to find whatever we don’t know is down there.
In a way, the dive team does all these searches part-time. Each one of them is first a state trooper who has a full-time assignment patrolling the road. When they get the call to search the water, it’s only then they trade their taser for an air tank, and dive under the water.