When the Hall County Dive team mobilizes, there’s no telling where they’ll be heading.
It could be Lake Lanier, where in the last nine years nearly 60 people have drowned. It could be Lake Allatoona, or Unicoi Lake or private ponds in Jefferson or Athens or Winder, all locations the team has been asked to help search in recent years.
The divers don’t just search for bodies. They’ve fished guns out of rivers and made sure sunken cars were unoccupied.
How often they are needed is hard to predict, said the team’s assistant commander, Sgt. Kelley Edwards.
“One year it could be five times, one year it could be 25,” he said. Regardless, each dive team member spends eight hours a month in the water training, even in the winter.
This year, the dive team, a unit of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office that specializes in search and recovery efforts, has a new vehicle to replace its nearly 20-year-old van.
The 16-foot Chevrolet box truck replaces a 10-foot van the dive team, at 12 members, had outgrown.
“It’s better suited for a 12-man team,” Edwards said, noting the old vehicle could only seat four. A retractable ramp allows suited-up divers to get in and out of the truck without needing a hand from their partners.
The greater payload capacity allows for as many as 40 air tanks, plus other equipment used by divers, including high-intensity flashlights and full-face diving masks equipped with radio communications.
The $54,000 truck was paid for using $31,000 in U.S. Justice Department grant money and $23,000 in drug seizure funds.
For the divers who use it, what they see when they suit up will be different, but what they see when they start diving is almost always the same.
“It’s dark, it’s cold, there’s a lot of trees,” Edwards said.