Exton, PA, March 1, 2004 – The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff's Volunteer Rescue Squad had just
received its new 9-pound VideoRay ROV (remotely operated vehicle) weeks before they were called to Ashland, Wisconsin. The
Ashland County Sheriff requested that St. Louis County attempt to locate the body of 44 year-old Tracy Schroeder, whose
snowmobile plunged into Chequamegon Bay on January 16. Divers had previously made 19 difficult dives in shifting ice in an
effort to locate the victim. A diver spent less than one minute in the 37-degree water recovering the body, just five
hours after the search with the VideoRay began.
About a half-mile from shore, the toaster-oven sized VideoRay was slipped through a hole in the ice. The body was found in 18 feet of water with the help of SeaSprite sonar that can navigate and “see” objects in poor visibility conditions. When the video-equipped ROV encountered the body, the VideoRay’s manipulator claw was clamped on an article of clothing to anchor it until the body could be removed. The recovery team cut the hole in the ice to remove the body after seeing the ROV’s lights through the ice.
Information gained while the VideoRay was operated was passed on to the Ashland County Sheriff for investigative purposes. St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips, Deputy Sheriff Duane Nelson, and Rescue Squad members Lt. Tom Crossmon and Lt. Dirk VerSteeg operated the VideoRay. Phillips stated that the team effort of the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office, Ashland Fire Department, and Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team made the search with the ROV a very professional and focused effort.
The VideoRay Pro II is equipped with a video eye that sends a live feed to a screen seen by the operator who is on the dock or a boat. The Sea Sprite sonar is used for locating targets as well as for navigation. By using the image of the snowmobile as a point of reference, the sonar could see for a range of 60 feet and gather images from a 360-degree radius. Searchers correctly assumed the victim would swim directly for shore from the snowmobile, and the body was located 250 feet from where the snowmobile was found two weeks earlier by the dive team.
The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and Rescue Squad purchased the VideoRay Pro II through a Homeland Security grant with the State of Minnesota. According to Phillips, the Sheriff’s Office plans to use the VideoRay to help in search and recovery efforts of drowning victims, documenting underwater crime scenes, and as part of a Homeland Security program for the State of Minnesota. Phillips says the VideoRay was chosen for its affordability, portability, easy operation, and ability to operate in cold, dark waters.
Phillips stated to the Duluth News Tribune, “What our goal was when we acquired this [VideoRay] is to get the scuba divers out of the search business and get them into the recovery business. This was a simple matter of cutting a hole in the ice and going to where the victim was found by the ROV as opposed to spending time searching” and endangering divers.
March 1, 2004