HOLLSOPPLE – A camera-equipped miniature submarine is joining the search for an 18-year-old Westmoreland County man who disappeared in the Quemahoning Reservoir on Monday.
With the search set to enter its fifth day, the ROV – or Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle – will ease the strain on teams of divers that have spent all week exploring the more than 870-acre lake, according to David Boyer, a Scalp Level-Paint deputy fire chief who is leading the regional search operation.
For divers, the search in a reservoir that reaches depths of 90 feet is a time-consuming, methodical – and, if not done properly, dangerous – task, because water pressure increases as they travel toward the lake bed.
At those depths, a diver can only spend five or 10 minutes exploring the bottom of the lake before a multi-step, 25-minute-long climb to the surface must begin to decompress from the pressure the water exerts on them, Boyer said.
“Our investigation is moving into deep water now,” Boyer said, noting that with the scuba diving equipment crews have right now, they were spending most of their time in the water decompressing.
Now, those divers can be used more sparingly if the vehicle’s camera finds something worth a closer look.
“Using devices like these are a lot safer than relying on divers,” he said.
The Jackson Township-East Taylor Water Rescue team’s miniature underwater vehicle is being used in the search. One of the team’s members will be able to control it remotely from a boat and see what the device sees, thanks to cameras that capture video and digital images in real time.
Boats have been patrolling the lake since Monday, after the Ligonier Valley graduate reportedly disappeared into the lake while paddleboarding.
As per the family’s wishes, authorities have not released the name of the young man, who was with two friends near the Plank Road side of the lake. Volunteers have focused their search on that area.
More than 125 volunteers from several counties have been a part of that search, including dive teams as far away as Pittsburgh.
“A good number of these people are volunteers. They have jobs and families to support, and they’re giving from their hearts completely,” he said, noting the search has averaged about 50 responders a day. “To keep coming back, it says a lot.”
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