Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Critter dunking

When I was in the rescue business we were nondiscriminatory in our attentions. You call; we haul, day or night. If we like you or not. That’s the way it should be. We as a group would turn out for some of the most absurd goat roping you can imagine. A few calls turned into a comedy of errors the likes of which avoid explanation. I was talking to a coworker who knew one of our local critters and was reminded of this one.

He was the kind of dude who caused you to shake your head in amazement, why didn't someone just shake some sense into him? It might have kept him alive. This was the perp who would rather saw the cleat off your flag pole than go to the hardware store and buy one for a couple of bucks. Hassel old ladies and do anything on a dare so he couldn't be accused of being scared. Stupid, absolutely, no doubt at all, scared? Well, he did things that most people would shy away from if you paid them good money. The only thing certain is he won't do them again.

There is a bridge over the intercostal waterway that measures about 72 feet from the rail to the water, depending on the tide. The water is 24 feet deep, again depending on tide. The water in the intercostal is black; rather, it is stained with tannic acid so dark it looks black. If your dive light is strong enough, it will penetrate two or three feet.

The waters are alive and lively, lots of things are there to process any unattended protein. That means if you don't keep moving something will sidle over for a snack off your tender parts.

I eat blue crabs for revenge, it's only fair.

The critter in question was out working on a graduate degree in redneck, accruing points by the six-pack lot. Two of his cousins, also post graduate rednecks themselves, were helping him in his development. One of the cousins decided the thing to do was pay cousin to do something he wouldn't do himself. In this case it was dive off the bridge. Now the critter soon to be the object of our search had done this before, feet first. His cousins paid the fearless one, to dive head first from the bridge, the munificent sum of twenty dollars. The geniuses in question, supplied critter with tobacco and beer, then went to the marsh to watch the fearless one dive.

Let me pause here to point out that a little healthy fear will keep you out of the ED or morgue.

No Fear, indeed, more like no brains.

We later had a witness come forward to say she had seen him take a final sip of beer, a final drag on his cigarette, and stand with his hands over his head and then dive. If you ever watch dive competition, notice they look at the water until just before impact, then hit it head first. They are careful to ensure the surface is visible to the diver so they can judge the distance remaining. It's not possible at night, can't see black water in the dark. Critter was still looking at the water when he hit. He never surfaced.

The cousins in their panic, attempted to find critter, in the dark, in cold water, with the tide running. I am afraid the odds were against them. Actually they hadn’t a prayer, not that any of this bunch were likely to warm a pew.

The next obvious thing to do is call the squad. Let the games begin!!!!

The closest diver was an ex-con who would dive in the deepest most dangerous water around with out a buddy, the rescue truck shows up and he’s in the water in not much more than underwear and scuba gear. We had a half dozen or so qualified divers, some of those had actually done searches for victims, not the hero, his first time.

By himself, at night.

I got the call and arrived about twenty minutes into the circus, clown two on scene. The scene commander told me to get into gear as safety diver. Keep in mind, I am not fully certified yet. So, who will save who? I went to the back of the rescue truck and proceeded to put on my wetsuit and Scuba gear. The TV cameras and such were at the waters edge so I figured no one will notice the naked man in the dark.\

I should be so lucky.

When I was suited up and clanked around to the edge of the water the Chief asked me where I got dressed. I replied “the road back of the truck.” He looked a little stricken and informed me the family of the missing critter was sitting in the car behind where I stripped. Hope they enjoyed the show.

Our felonious diver surfaced and said “no way, too dark”. The Sheriffs team showed up and took over diving operations, God bless them. The lead was an ex-Seal friend of mine who is more at home underwater with explosives than most folks are on the bank with a beer. Karl described the bottom as covered with stumps and the water as dark as diving in your closet with the light off. I’ll take his word for it. He spent a couple of hours following crabs to see if they could find the critter, no luck there either.

The yacht club, as we called the folks who ran the water ambulance, were idling around with million candle power lights checking the edges of the marsh for the body. That would be until the lights killed the batteries and the engine died.

The Coast Guard was on scene, blocking the water way, while diving was in progress. They were gracious enough to come get the boat and ease us around to the nearest pier to charge the batteries. By this time the yacht club has gotten tired and gone home. I was never certified on the boat, a political thing, but I was good enough to do what ever, if they didn’t want to. So, guess who was at the helm? Right in one,,, me. I was treated to the most outstanding example of helmsman ship I have seen to date. The coxswain of Coast Guard 42366 could probably square dance with that hull, and never touch his partners toes.

Some time very late, the search was called until the morning. Then things really got interesting.

I was again running the rescue boat, the county emergency coordinator was there to manage the recovery operations, the TV crew was back, the family was on scene. The Sheriff came down to see what his boys were doing. All things considered we could have had a great party if there wasn’t a fatality involved.

We were sixteen hours into the efforts before the body was recovered.
In this part of the state we get our share of drowning. Because of this, the method of searching has progressed from dragging to shrimping. We use a small shrimp net with a tickler chain to pull around areas to net the bodies. Everyone wants to help and three or so nets can cover a large area. I was blocking the south access to the search area and got a call to come to the dock area. One of the nets had found the body and his arm was wrapped in the chain. We were in the process of getting critter untangled and into a basket to raise him into the boat when the breeze started to push us into the shore.

This is bad.

Remember earlier when I mentioned that crabs would sample your tender parts? Mr. Critter had been sampled. His ears, nose, lips, and some other parts were pretty well chewed. The other interesting sight was the foam coming out of his ears, nose and mouth. That is due to the salt water and rising from twenty or so feet under water.

Most unattractive.

This is always the point where some helpful idiot will show the family down to look at what the crabs have left of the recently departed. The family member in question was “little sister”. She was younger not smaller. Actually she could have played defense in the NFL. The sympathetic moron who was “helping” had on hand on her elbow, and his head barely came to her shoulder. I saw them approaching through a crowd of deputies. One of the other people with me looked up and called to the deputies to clear the pier. If little sis had gone down on the pier we would have been there all day getting her out. The good guys put them all on the hill.

The TV crew finally had what they had come for, a shot of the recovered body, hopefully gory, being dragged from the water. There was a problem. Little sis was standing in the way. The news reporter reached over and pushed little sis out of the shot and there you have it, I was on TV.

Little sis was not happy. She looked around, picked up a piece of four by four, and swung for the fence. The reporter was down for the count. Imagine a shocked silence, except for the sound of jaws dropping to creak in the breeze. Into this silence speaks a soft voice, “Sheriff what are you going to do if the reporter presses charges?” The Sheriff replies “Nothing, but if she presses charges, he’s going to jail.”

I love me that Sheriff!!

The rest is rather anticlimactic, take the critter to the morgue, clean all the equipment and try to write a report that keeps us from looking exceptionally stupid.

That’s the hard part.

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