Canyon Lake drowning victim recovery

On July 9th, Trident Training Solutions (TTS) partnered with the Houston Police Department Dive Team and Harris County Sheriff’s Office in response to a call for assistance by the Texas Game Wardens and the Comal County Sheriffs Office. A 25 yr old male drowned on July 4th in Canyon Lake near a small island known by locals as Party Cove. The popular gathering spot is near the original river bed of the Guadalupe River. The bottom topography features a steep slope and several areas of densely populated trees following the original riverbed rising from the lake bottom (97 ft) to within two to three feet of the surface (see image below).

Due to steep topography and the presence of trees within feet of the surface, previous search efforts by local teams were limited to the use of Hull Mounted Side Scan Sonars and made locating the drowning victim problematic. However, due to good eyewitness interviews by local authorities, we had a very accurate last seen point.

 Upon our arrival on scene, we met with personnel from the Texas Game Wardens and New Braunfels Fire Department to discuss our search strategy.

It was decided to deploy our assets onto three separate vessels. The first boat was equipped with HPD’s tripod-mounted Hammerhead mechanically scanning sonar manufactured by Tritech International Limited.  The second vessel was equipped with HPD’s pole-mounted Starfish side scan sonar, and the third vessel was equipped with HCSO’s Video Ray LLC Pro4 ROV equipped with a multi-beam sonar.

Using the pole-mounted side scan sonar and hull-mounted downward imaging sonars to examine the search area. We were able to accurately determine the location of the riverbed and submerged trees, enabling us to avoid the submerged trees and lower the tripod-mounted scanning sonar to the riverbed.  We were quickly able to identify two potential targets.

HCSO personnel then deployed their ROV to positively identify the target. To avoid entangling the ROV in the surrounding trees, we utilized the ROV manipulator to loosely close around the cable used to lower the tripod to the riverbed.  Once on the bottom, we were able to monitor the ROV using the scanning sonar and quickly direct the ROV to the first target, which ended up being a large tree stump. While the second target was identified as our drowning victim. Utilizing the manipulator claw attached to the ROV we were able to secure the victim. Houston PD Dive team members were then able to descend down the ROV umbilical and recover the victim. The total bottom time for the divers was less than 20 minutes.

We would like to thank the Houston Police Dive Team for reaching out to us and providing the opportunity to assist in bringing this young man home. This operation was a textbook example of inter-agency cooperation. Special thanks to Houston Police Dive Team, Texas Game Wardens, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Comal County Sheriff’s Office, and the New Braunfels Fire Department. It is an honor to work with such dedicated men and women.