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Unmanned sub aids in lake, river searches

By Staff | Jul 18, 2014

In the search following a drowning at Buffalo Lake this month, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department needed the assistance of high tech tools. That assistance came in the form of a small, unmanned, remote-controlled vehicle.

Pierce County Sheriff Matt Lunde learned from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation that the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department’s Dive Team had a remote operated vehicle (ROV) used for body and evidence recovery. Lunde called the Burleigh County office at 1 a.m. July 6, and the dive team arrived at 8:30 a.m. The ROV was then used to verify what sonar from a North Dakota Game & Fish Department boat saw on the bottom of Buffalo Lake.

“The submersible recovery unit was instrumental in the (body) recovery,” said Lunde, who expressed gratitude to all parties involved in the effort.

The ROV in the dive team’s arsenal is a VideoRay Pro 3. It measures 14.75 inches by 11.4 inches by 8.75 inches, weighs 85 pounds and is equipped with thrusters to drive forward and back, a manipulator arm that can grab onto objects and sonar. It can operate at depths of up to 1,000 feet and at a distance of up to 750 feet away from the operator.

“The nice thing about it is we can put it down in places we don’t want to send a diver,” said Burleigh County Deputy Tom Schroeder. Schroeder added that conditions like murky water, high current or nighttime conditions could pose danger to divers while not harming the submersible.

The vehicle requires the use of two computers, one interprets and records two-dimensional images of the bottom of a body of water while the other controls the submersible.

“We refer to it as ‘flying’,” Schroeder said of operating the ROV.

The Burleigh County Dive Team acquired the ROV this spring through state grant monies and completed training in May. Prior to acquiring one of its own, the team borrowed an ROV from Stutsman County to recover a body from the Missouri River.

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