Underwater bomb squad works to clear Idaho river of explosives
Roland Beres, KIVI
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BOISE – A specialized team of bomb squad veterans is spending a lot of time at the bottom of the Snake River.
The crew was called in from across the country after two howitzer shells were found next to the Idaho Highway 45 bridge over the Snake River.
And their mission to clear the area is both tedious and dangerous.
Road crews discovered and removed two military shells during repair work on the bridge two weeks ago — and there may be more.
“You want to make sure it’s safe before getting back in there, and finding the right people to make that sweep before you get out there,” says Jake Melder with the Idaho Transportation Department.
ITD quickly realized the right people belonged to Knoxville, Tennessee’s VR Habilis.
“We have a history in Navy Special Ops and special warfare community,” says Elliott Adler, chief operations officer for VR Habilis.
The veterans were called in to clear the water around the two bridges of any more explosives.
And Adler says they jumped at the chance.
“It’s a beautiful location to come work. and a couple crew members accepted the job specifically because it was Idaho,” Adler says.
But how do you clear an area the size of five acres under murky water?
The divers do whats’ called a jackstay search, which means they follow a rope underwater for about 200 feet to a weight which they move five feet and then work their way back up river,” says Adler. “That ensures the divers stay oriented and ensures full coverage.
You might think spending all that time under frigid water would take its toll, but not so.
“The diver does a lot of sweating down there.” says Adler. “That’s because he’s diving in what’s called a hot water suit so he’s the most comfortable guy on the job site, in a spa down there the whole time.”
The silver pole in the diver’s hand is an underwater metal detector.
“It’s called a flux gate magnetometer,” says Adler.
It regularly finds metal debris, but what if it finds more shells?
“If it’s in close proximity to the bridge, we’d close it to traffic before we did removal,” says Adler.
And the same disposal unit from Mountain Home would handle the shells from there.
If no more shells are found, work to repair the bridge could begin again in about a week.
Besides the hot water suit, divers must wear a 30 pound helmet and an 80 pound weight belt to fight the river current.
Crews on the boat help drag the diver on the upstream portions of the search.
So far, the divers have not found any more munitions. But they have found an old 22-caliber Colt pistol and a discarded safe and cash drawer. Those items were turned over to the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Department.