Wednesday, August 14, 2013

State police scuba, aviation teams update rescue skills on Keuka Lake

KEUKA PARK — State police scuba divers took to the choppy, cloud-darkened waters of Keuka Lake on Wednesday to sharpen their water rescue safety skills. 

Roughly a dozen certified divers from Troop E were briefed on the latest safety techniques before teaming up for simulated rescues off Keuka State Park. The annual Scuba and Aviation units’ exercise was designed to ensure the safety of the experienced divers and those in peril.

Emergency response from the air adds another dimension to retrieving people in danger of drowning, said Tech. Sgt. Greg Vaillancourt of Batavia. “It’s a confusing environment as it is,” he said. “It’s very noisy. The helicopter itself contributes to the noise.”

There also is a difference in the type of retrievals. Rescue efforts look to locate people believed to be alive; recovery plans search for those likely to be dead, said Senior Diver Trooper James Bailey of Painted Post.

And that distinction is an important one, although the decision is difficult. Typically, hopeful rescues taking longer than an hour — the “magic” hour — are likely to become saddened recoveries.

“There are so many factors … temperature, weather conditions, it’s hard to say. It’s always hard to say,” Bailey said.

He recalled a scuba team rescue after a boat sank on an area lake. Although the boat was submerged well past an hour, one passenger was in an air pocket and grabbed a rescuing scuba diver’s arm.

The question often is “how much risk you’re willing to put your team in,” Vaillancourt said.

The risk is real enough for the divers, who put their lives on the line, he said. “There’s something else for these guys. They care about rescuing (victims); they really want to help.”

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