Increasing Saskatchewan underwater search and rescue success rates

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STANLEY MISSION, Sask. – He had been missing for nearly three months, but this past Saturday the body of 66-year-old Solomon Roberts was pulled from the frigid waters of Otter Lake in northern Saskatchewan.

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band elder was located using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).

“It’s a camera with the addition of a high-resolution imaging sonar, which instead of using light, uses sound to extend the affected area of the search,” said Pat Donovan from Meridian Ocean Services.

Donovan oversees the company’s technical operations and development. Founded in 2012, Meridian is a provider of subsea survey and inspection solutions, including ROV and advanced imaging technology.

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Roberts fell through the ice on Otter Lake while riding his snowmobile in November, 2013.

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The Rhode Island-based company was contacted by a Lac La Ronge Indian Band councillor in December. Locals were trained to operate the ROVs by a team from Meridian and the search for the missing elder resumed in February.

“Somebody like Lac La Ronge Indian Band who’s fairly isolated and they have a massive amount of water, lakes and river systems, they’ve sort of taken a tragic situation and turned it into something the entire band – if not the entire region – can use,” said Donovan.

Though ROVs were crucial in the search for Roberts, Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services says there are a few roadblocks when it comes to using them in the South Saskatchewan River.

“At Otter Lake, you’re dealing with static water. It’s not moving, so you can chop a hole in the ice and the diver can go in and they can do a big sweep,” said Bill Coffin, assistant fire chief.

Coffin says the current moves significantly faster on the South Saskatchewan, so placing a diver in the icy water can be risky.

Still, Coffin says the local fire department maintains a high recovery rate and they are looking into the possibility of acquiring a form of sonar technology in the future.

He says on average, they receive 36 to 38 calls each year pertaining to river rescues.


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