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Device To Help Agency In Underwater Searches
Cynthia M. Ellis, The Telegraph (April 5, 2004)

Twin Rivers Search and Rescue receive Nova Ray operator training from Karl Kunkle, QA Manager

EAST ALTON -- An anonymous donation helped make a big splash in assisting Twin Rivers Search and Rescue.

The search-and-rescue organization, which assists law enforcement and medical professionals in water rescues throughout the year, is getting a little help of its own, said Peggy Williams, vice president of the organization.

Williams said a submersible remotely operated vehicle, called a Nova Ray, was donated to the organization at the end of last month.

"We are really excited," Williams said. "We have the first one in the country."

The taxi cab yellow ROV with its pectoral "wings" looks more like a manta ray rather than a piece of high-tech camera equipment. The 55-pound piece of equipment can be operated by a single pilot and is assisted by onboard computer software. It can operate in water at speeds up to 9 knots and at depths near 300 meters.

Williams said Twin Rivers, along with Alton Volunteer Emergency Corps, trained briefly on the ROV. The two have an automatic mutual aid agreement.

"There were a few members that took a daylong course on how to work it," she said.

She said the class, in which several members were certified on the equipment, was held at the YWCA and along Alton Riverfront Park in March. On Sunday the search and rescue group took the ROV out again near the Alton Marina.

The Nova Ray surveys underwater sites and transmits video images to an operator. On the front of the unit a camera sits behind a curved piece of glass and sends images up through a digital communications link. The system also includes scanning sonar and tracking systems.

"This equipment can be more efficient than divers," Williams said. "It can stay underwater for an indefinite period of time and can detect things in the mud."

Rescuers using the Nova Ray can record and document everything that is detected below the water’s surface.

"Everything is recorded on a disk," Williams said.

The Nova Ray’s price tag is $55,000 plus. It was specifically developed by a company in Washington state, Nova Marine Exploration Inc., so that it could be used in high-current environments. The exploration company surveys, documents and recovers shipwrecks.

Also since the catastrophic events on Sept. 11, 2001, the exploration company doubled its efforts in remote-operated vehicle development to meet the needs of homeland security, specifically port security and pipeline inspections.

Williams said one of the best things about the system is its portability.

"It comes in three luggage-size containers," she said.

The system, which is 39 inches long and 47 inches wide, is equipped with a digital camera, sensors that give water temperature, lights and a 100-meter umbilical cord that easily packs into two large luggage containers. The computer is in a smaller third one.

Williams said the rescue organization was pleased to get such an enormous donation.

"We know this equipment cost a lot of money and we are just really grateful," she said.

Twin Rivers has been serving the community and educating the public for more than 44 years. The group incorporated in September 1958. The original name of the group was the Wood River Township Volunteer Emergency Corp Inc. and the name was changed in March 1986.

Williams said the organization is also looking for volunteers.

"We are getting into boating season, and now more than ever we need volunteers," she said.

Those interested in finding out more can call 258-0440.


©The Telegraph 2004

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