I'm stuck in a tree with full scuba gear in a forest fire!

By Todd Hancock aka. NapaDiver

Sorry, couldn't resist the obvious corelation.

Well, we're batting 1.000 (so ok, it was our first call-out, still 'one-fer')

Dive report: The Lake Berryessa fire is under control, but there is still a small army of fire fighters camped out, mopping up. This included an entire squadron of helicopters. Big ones, little ones, you name it.

This morning, a huge Sikorsky Sky Crane was on bucket brigade, scooping up giant dippers of water and spooging them onto hot spots at the fire line. Well, depending on who you believe, either there was an equipment failure, or the pilot freaked and jettisoned, a 2000 gallon rigid bucket, along with 185 feet of steel cable and a 500 pound "shock" thing that connects the bucket to the 'copter. In 70 feet of water.

Enter our heros, the newly formed (yet to be tested) Napa County Sheriff's Underwater Search and Recovery Team (sorry TTD, they veto'ed SUDS).

Did I mention this was our first operational call-out? (gulp)

As team leader, I arrived early and evaluated the situation. 1/2 mile from shore, shaky "last seen" point, zero viz, several thousand pounds of entanglement city to recover. No prob!

The team arrived, and I briefed them on the sit:

Plan "A": The boat patrol locates the 10 foot tall bucket with it's fish finder (that's one BFF!), we anchor on top, send two divers down with the recovery line and lift bag, attach to pintle, inflate bag, hook line to overhead Sikorsky, ride into sunset.

Plan "B": Boat gets skunked, send one tethered diver down, initiate sweep search pattern, repeat, locate SOMETHING, send diver 2 down with lift bag/line, see plan A.

The boat couldn't find the big fish. Based upon very shaky witness reports, our "last seen" point was not 100% fer sure. But, as in test taking, trust your first instincts. We dropped our first diver near the point,and nothing. He reported bottom at 55 feet, less than zero viz, an a less than satisfactory experience.

Diver 2, my ace, down the anchor line and immediately heads off in the wrong direction. Remember, my post of last night about our cool new comm gear? Sure woulda been nice to have it on this dive :) Unfortunately, the box that we used last night was on loan as ours is on back-order, so we were back to "was that TWO tugs? What the hell is he doing down there, (stoneage stuff)

Quick PSD line tending tutorial:
1 pull: Are you ok? Yeah I'm ok, leave me alone.
2 pulls: From diver: Give me more freakin line! From tender: Turn around, stupid, your going the wrong way!
3 pulls: From diver: Yahoo! Found it, buy me beers! From tender, you got skunked, come on up, and we'll send someone GOOD down.
4 pulls: From diver: Oh, shit! Come save me! From tender: Oh shit, don't even bother coming up, we're screwed.

I'm tending line, and "tug" him back to our search area. Second pass on his sweep, TUG!!.....(long pause, yeah I'm ok)....TUG!...TUG!...TUG!!!

??? There is nothing more likely to give you an ulcer, gray hair, impotence, bad breath than being on the surface, holding a divers life-line, when the TUGs!!! start heading upstream:
1 I'm ok,
2 more rope?,
3, found it?-you-can-stop-now-please-oh-god-please-dont-send-FOUR!

So what does three-and-a-half tugs mean? I found it and it's killing me?

---Me to Stand-by Diver: Get your @#&*%! ass down that line and see what the #@$%*& is going on! (really, REALLY regretting sending back the loaner comm box right about now)

Five LOOOOOOOONG minutes later watching bubbles (don't ya HATE those long pauses between breaths?) both divers pop to the surface. I of course, act like a dad waiting for his teenaged daughter at two in the morning, "what the hell are you guys DOING down there!?!

Found it! (sigh)

Now it's my turn. (this is plan (a)(b)+z*=?)

Since my second diver, the ace, forgot to take a marker bouy down, he tied off the tend-line to the cable. I get to descend with a 100 pound kevlar lift line with a huge screw-u-bolt thing on the end and try to bring it up. Lets see, I SINK LIKE THE TITANIC and bury two feet deep in tne silt at 50 FFW. On the positive side, I can still see, or I could if I wasn't up to my eyeballs in muck. Follow the line down down down and at about 60 feet, lights OUT! Right about NOW I'm appreciating, not Cozumel, not Cabo, but freakin Monterey with it's sucky 10 feet of viz.

OK, here's the line, attached to the cable. Check air/depth? Who the hell knows cause I can't see the $1000 computer pressed against my mask! No prob, then I fall off the cliff. I'm plunked on the bottom, up to my huevos in muck, trying to attach a rubiks cube to a cable and the bottom gives out.

Rational thought does not exist in 70 feet of black water with 185 feet of cable, a kevlar lift line, a nylon cord wrapped around your wrist/head/foot/reg, when you start to SLIIIIIIIIIDE down a bottomless pit! You KNOW the deepest bottom is at 80 feet, but when you start SLIIIIIIDING off a cliff, you BELIEVE that it is the bottomless pit of hell. I'm sure that if you drained the lake, you'd see my claw marks on the bottom. Connect lift-bag to ?cable?tree?body?

Lesson #1687: Practice connecting mechanical thingys when your blind.

Twenty minutes later, I THINK I've got the u-bolt dodad hooked over the cable. Surface and High-Five?, (glory is fleeting). Inflate lift bag, surface. ummmm, surface...uh, GO UP?!?

Lesson #2468924: In black water, you have NO friggin idea which way is UP!

I got to the surface, or China, not sure.

The Sky Hook clamped onto the lift line and YANKED the bucket off the bottom of the inter-continental rift (for all I know) and...

We are HEROS!!!

(ok, ok, WE all know there is room for improvement) but..

DAMN, if feels good to be PERFECT at this moment.

(PS. The "fire diver" urban legend emails are ALL true!)

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