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Charly Haley, Forum News Service, Published June 13 2013

Stutsman uses remote-operated vehicle

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – The Stutsman County ROV Team responded to its first rescue mission Monday.

It assisted the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department in locating a drowning victim’s body in the Missouri River near Bismarck.

Stutsman County’s remote-operated vehicle is the second in North Dakota. Valley Water Rescue in Fargo also has one, said Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther.

Stutsman County acquired its ROV last year after the family of Darrin Ackerman, who drowned in the Jamestown Reservoir in December 2011, raised funds for it.

In Ackerman’s case, there weren’t any ROVs ready to be used in North Dakota, and Ackerman’s family and friends waited eight days for an ROV to be brought from Duluth, Minn., to find and retrieve his body.

Since then, Stutsman County’s team and Valley Water Rescue have received training, and some law enforcement officials in Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks have trained to operate the machine as well, Reuther said.

The ROV is about two feet long and 1.5 feet tall, Reuther said. It goes underwater on a tether and records video and sonar. Stutsman County’s ROV can operate up to 500 feet under water. It also has a small arm that can be manipulated to grab things.

An ROV takes a minimum of three people to operate, Reuther said. One person controls the machine and watches the sonar and video monitors, another also watches the monitors for targets, and the third person stretches the tether.

Reuther said he received a call from Burleigh County around 8 p.m. Sunday, asking for ROV assistance in the Missouri River where authorities believed a man had drowned.

Officer Troy Fleck, of the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Office and leader of its dive team, said he knew they needed help because of poor visibility in the water.

“Twenty feet might as well have been 20 miles,” he said.

Reuther, Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser and Lt. Sheldon Mohr of the Jamestown Fire Department left Jamestown around 6 a.m. Monday, and the ROV was in the water at about 9:30 a.m., Reuther said.

Someone from the Burleigh County dive team helped operate the ROV, Reuther said, and the machine located a target.

A diver from Burleigh County went down on the tether and brought the body to the surface around 1 p.m., Reuther said.

It was the first time the Stutsman ROV team dealt with a strong current — most of the team’s training has been in the Jamestown Reservoir, Reuther said.

The search went well, though, he said. His team was back in Jamestown by about 4:15 p.m.

“(Using an ROV) alleviates us putting a lot of our divers at risk,” Fleck said. “It took a lot of the guesswork out of the search.”

Bismarck Rural Fire Department also assisted on scene Monday.

Fleck said Burleigh County plans to have some officers continue ROV training with Stutsman County officers.

Stutsman County’s ROV team will train on operating in strong currents this month in Fargo, Reuther said. He also said he hopes to get funding for training in winter rescue, with ice.

Although this was Stutsman County’s first ROV rescue call, the machine has been used in other calls, Reuther said, such as investigations.