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This article was published 3/1/2019 (320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A state-of-the-art, underwater remotely operated vehicle was used this week in the recovery of two bodies, believed to be snowmobile riders missing since November, from the Winnipeg River near Sagkeeng First Nation.
The VideoRay Pro 4 was used as part of a search of the area by the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team (HEART) — a volunteer group of certified divers from the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony — along with the ROV’s owner, Tom Crossmon of Duluth, Minn.
The group discovered one body around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday — their fourth day of searching for a man and a woman missing since Nov. 20. It is believed they had attempted to cross the partially frozen river on a snowmobile that night and went into the water.
Late Thursday afternoon, as the final day of the search was wrapping up, a second body was located not far from where the first was recovered, HEART member Paul Maendel confirmed.
Earlier in the day, RCMP said there was yet no official identification on the first body.
On Tuesday, the searchers located the snowmobile the two people were believed to have been operating.
"Since then, we’ve been searching from the sled to where the potential victims might be, and we recovered one with the ROV yesterday, so it’s, I believe, a first in Manitoba: recovering solely with an ROV," Maendel said Thursday morning.
Maendel said his group was in contact with the community 145 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg soon after the two people went missing, but it was too dangerous to go into the water.
"It’s still not safe for divers because there is ice overhead. We were fortunate to have Tom come out and he does remotely what we usually do with diving," he said.
"That’s what gives us the opportunity to be out here at this point, is we don’t have to put divers down.
"The task would be insurmountable to do this search with divers. The area that we’ve covered would take months to search with divers."
Four HEART members, volunteering during the Christmas break from their jobs, arrived in Sagkeeng on Sunday to resume the search, which had been called off shortly after the two people disappeared because of dangerous conditions. Even now, Maendel said the water is around 2 C and about 15 to 18 metres deep with a powerful current.
"It is a daunting task, and the odds are against us finding anyone here because of the conditions."
Maendel said the VideoRay Pro 4 — an ROV equipped with lights, camera, sonar and positioning systems — is worth around $100,000, which is why police services in Manitoba do not have one.
Crossmon — the head of Crossmon Consulting, which was formed to assist in drowning-victim recovery cases — was headed to Alaska Thursday night to assist in another recovery.
Thursday was also the last day HEART members would be on-site, as they were to travel to Montana to assist in a body recovery. (HEART is funded only through donations.)
"We realize we’re limited in scope and what we can do," Maendel said.
"I believe we’re giving it our best effort that we have, using the technology that we have and the skill set... That is ultimately our goal: to return missing persons to their families so they can get closure."
Ashley works the general assignment beat.
Updated on Friday, January 4, 2019 at 6:42 AM CST: Updates with writethrough