Underwater tech: What's TWRA searching for?

Donovan Long # State

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency uses a tool that changes lives and even lights the way to find them.

"It's a great tool, but it's not always the perfect tool,"
TWRA Captain George Birdwell said.

The device might be small, but its impact is huge.

"It has changed the way we look for victims who've unfortunately drowned due to boating accidents and assisting other agencies in swimming-related drownings as well,"
Captain Birdwell said.

Local 8 News captured a TWRA agent placing the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in a place where it does its best work. The ROV's bright, yellow tail is unmistakable, and it's value is undeniable.

"It has changed the way we document the evidence at the bottom of the lake,"
Captain Birdwell said.
"It also speeds up the recovery process of drowning victims."

Captain Birdwell told Local 8 News the device cuts a days-long job down to hours.

"It's made a lot of those recoveries much faster, which is extremely valuable for that family in their time of grief,"
Captain Birdwell said.

It also makes recovery operations safer.

"We can go in and search that area for hazards before we send in the diver in that area for their safety,"
Captain Birdwell said.

Captain Birdwell showed Local 8 News how that's made possible from the ground: It detects underwater objects by turning sound into pictures.

"We can record both the live video and the screen shots, and we do screen shots and record the sonar video as well,"
Captain Birdwell said.

The device can go anywhere, even over a cliff, and it can search water up to 1,000 feet deep. However, wading through loose items at the bottom of the water can become challenging, officials said.

"Debris at the bottom of the lake or standing timber,"
Captain Birdwell said.

No matter how deep the little, yellow machine must go, its power to make a difference is limitless.

"That's rewarding to me that I'm helping that family move on,"
Captain Birdwell said.