IDAHO FALLS — Sgt. Karl Casperson has found guns, tools, jewelry, cars, and boats in the Snake River and in other bodies of water in the area.
He is the dive team leader for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Aquatic Rescue and Recovery Team. Casperson has been with the dive team for over 30 years. The team is typically staffed with 20 people.
“I started with the sheriff’s office in 1985. I had certified to dive when I served in the Navy in 1979, so I have been with the dive team since ’85,” he said.
Casperson said he joined because he had the ability to dive and do things that a lot of people couldn’t. But he also became a diver so he could help and provide a service to people.
“We provide a service that a lot of people depend on when they do lose a loved one, in the river or in the lakes, or property. We have been good at recovering property. The big service is probably when a victim drowns. We are able to get that person back to their family,” Casperson said.
He showed EastIdahoNews.com different equipment, like a handheld sonar that is used to find a body in the water. He said that it can be put in the water and moved from left to right. The screen will show an “X” for a body and an “O” for a rock or another object.
“Every year is different, but on average, we probably respond to several drownings and a lot of vehicles in the water. We have boats that sink,” Casperson said. “Spring runoff is a really horrible time. We had a lot of boats that capsized this year on the Snake River. We were able to rescue a dog off of one of them.”
He added that he wants people to always be safe when they get in the water.
“A lot of the times, people get in the water unexpectedly, and that’s where the problems occur. So boaters: if you are not going to wear a life jacket, at least have it readily accessible so if your boat does capsize, you’ve got a hold of that. Be aware of what’s in your boat and what the water is like,” he said.
Diving isn’t as easy as it looks or sounds. For example, going into the water in the Snake River is like diving into “chocolate milk.”
“You can kind of see shapes, but it’s within a very short distance, so when you get down deeper, there is no light,” he said. “Much of the searching that we do is by hand, where you are just feeling along the bottom for a particular object.”
Besides that challenge, temperature is another one.
“We all wear drysuits during the wintertime, and in the summertime, we’ll wear wetsuits, but the temperature of the water here is very cold, sometimes to the point of freezing,” he said.
Casperson said if you want to be a diver, you can’t be claustrophobic. You’ve got to be in pretty good shape too. The gear that each dive team member carries weighs about 100 pounds. Some of the safety gear includes a rope bag, helmet, gloves, fins, and a wetsuit.
And they dive pretty deep.
“As a public safety diver, our maximum depth is supposed to be around 120 feet. The bridge at John’s Hole Bridge, is over 100 feet right below the bridge. Below the Broadway Bridge, it’s over 60 feet. Palisades Reservoir at full pool is over 200 feet deep in some areas. … We don’t dive at those places. We have an underwater ROV that we can swim down to things that are that deep,” he said.
An ROV is a remote operated vehicle. He said its tethered and has a grappling arm on it as well as a camera and a sonar.
“We can locate an object with sonar, we can swim the ROV over to the object, grab a hold of it and even bring things up with that too,” Casperson said.
Casperson said the dive team assists other agencies up and down southeast Idaho. They have dove at Red Fish Lake and have been in Challis.
He said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else for his career.
“I absolutely love my job,” Casperson said.