NOAA hydrographic survey vessels are valuable assets for search and rescue operations, as experienced crews use their knowledge of tides and ocean currents to develop science-based search patterns. Last month, two divers found out just how valuable NOAA’s expertise can be. — DF
Report submitted by Ensign Brittany Anderson, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
On the morning of August 26, 2012, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson was conducting routine hydrographic survey operations south of Block Island. At 0904 hours, a distress call was made on the very high frequency (VHF) radio to the Coast Guard Station. The caller reported two divers lost in the water at Southwest Ledge, a popular recreational point off Block Island. The coordinates were a mere seconds north of the Thomas Jefferson.
A third diver was on a private boat with no VHF radio. He hailed the fishing boat Captain Ron, and that boat called the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Long Island Sound. The third diver continually returned to the water to search for the two missing divers.
At 0907, the Coast Guard reported via VHF that one of their vessels was on its way, but was 25 minutes out. Cmdr. Larry Krepp, commanding officer of the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, contacted the Coast Guard and informed them of our location and ability to assist in the search for the missing divers. Numerous additional lookouts were called to the bridge to search all points off the ship. At 0908 our ship stopped logging hydrographic survey data, and we retrieved our moving vessel profiler from the water. We calculated the current set and drift from Southwest Ledge and began search lines in the vicinity of the divers’ expected location.
Ensign Brittany Anderson, Ensign Anthony Klemm, Ensign Andrew Clos, Lt. Cmdr. Denise Gruccio, and Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp kept a heavy lookout on all sides. Chief hydrographic survey technician Peter Lewit and physical scientist James Miller updated the expected location of the divers based on current set and drift calculations. Able seaman Tom Bascom was at the helm, steering the course to search for the individuals. At approximately 0930, the Coast Guard rescue vessel arrived on scene and made contact with the third diver. At 0952, Lt. Cmdr. Gruccio spotted the two divers broad off the port beam at a bearing of 282° PGC (per gyrocompass.) We reported the position and distance to the Coast Guard rescue boat on scene; they promptly followed our pointing and bearing to the divers. They safely retrieved the two divers at 0955.
After receiving word from the Coast Guard that the divers were safe and our services were no longer needed, we came about to our survey course. We continued our hydrographic survey operations, relieved and pleased that our training and hydrographic knowledge gave us the ability to find the divers quickly and safely.
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is one of the most technologically advanced hydrographic survey vessels in the world. Equipped with high-resolution seafloor echo sounders, the 208-ft. Thomas Jefferson and its 36-person crew maps the seafloor in support of Coast Survey’s nautical charting mission.