Unprecedented Success

The ROV is launched

Tim manning the ROV cable

The Multibeam Sonar Head is found

The bottom team is ready to deploy

Tim (Dive Sup) & Support Divers, Grant and Jeff

the MSH - back on board!

Saturday, September 6, 2003
We arrived on site at Cortez Banks at 6 AM. The ROV crew (Dr. John Butler, John Wagner and Anthony Cossio) began preparations for launching their ROV. The ROV would be used to relocate the sonar head and provide a down line for the bottom team. After six weeks underwater, the odds of the MSH being where the team lost it were slim.

The dive team made final gas analyses and prepared their gear while the ROV team did what they could. On top of being the Dive Supervisor, Tim also helped the ROV crew launch and recover the ROV. Sea conditions were good with swells three to four feet. This is definitely not bad when you are 100 miles off shore.

After a few gliches, the ROV was successfully launched about 2 PM. Everyone gathered around the ROV monitor and the search began. With over 265 feet of cable out to the bottom, there was nothing but sand. Everywhere the ROV looked the same story, SAND. Of course, that is good when you are looking for something man made. It should stick out like a sore thumb - if the head is not buried in the sand. The ROV has the technology to deal with that though, onboard sonar.

The captain called out the last know point of telemetry given by the head before its connection was severed six weeks earlier, and at that moment, all of those watching the monitor asked the same question, “What is that?” Sure enough, the ROV had sighted the sonar head. It was sitting in 269 feet of water - literally directly below the spot where it was lost. Everyone was quite astonished.

It was time for the dive team to go to work. Tim informed the Swordfish, “We are a go.” As the day had progressed, the sea conditions had been getting worse. The dive team suited up and made final preparations now that the actual bottom depth was known. The Shearwater launched its inflatable, piloted by Dana Wilkes, to recover the head once it arrived on the surface.

The Swordfish arrived and launched its own inflatable. Warden Santos Cabral and Robert Walther manned the skiff while Capt. John Suchil stayed at the helm of the Swordfish. The support divers transferred to the Swordfish and donned their backup stages. At about 4 PM, Tim gave the order “Dive! Dive! Dive!” and Karl and Steve splashed and began their descent. The team made it to the bottom in about 3 minutes and secured the MSH to the liftbag and by 6 minutes, it was on it’s way to the surface! The bottom team then left the bottom and shot a liftbag to the surface. Once the bag reached the surface, a second bag was shot to signal that both team members were together.

The support divers were splashed on the decompression bags and they confirmed that both divers were together and fine. They signaled that they were okay and on a 270 feet table with a bottom time of ten minutes. The information was relayed to the surface, so that all would be aware that the divers were fine. The ROV and the MSH were recovered during the decompression phase of the dive, and about 5 PM, the divers were all back on the surface.

After all divers and their gear were recovered (in the deteriorating sea conditions), the two inflatables were recovered and the trek home began.

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

  • Dana Wilkes – NOAA MSH Project Coordinator

NOAA Fisheries
  • LCDR Scott Hill
  • Melissa Neuman, PhD
  • Chuck Oliver
  • ROV Crew
    • John Butler, PhD
    • John Wagner
    • Anthony Cossio

NOAA Dive Office
  • David Dinsmore
  • Frank Parrish
  • Diving Safety Board

California Department of Fish and Game
  • Pete Haaker
  • Ian Taniguchi
  • MV Swordfish
    • Lt. John Suchil
    • Warden Santos Cabral
    • Warden Robert Walther

NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
  • Sarah Fangman
  • Chris Mobley
  • RV Shearwater
    • Capt. Luman Moody
    • Capt. Terrence Shinn

California State University Monterey Bay
  • Rikk Kvitek

Cambrian Foundation Team
  • Tim Gallagher Project Diving Safety Officer
  • Karl Shreeves Bottom Diver
  • Steve Mortell Bottom Diver
  • Jeff Schoonover Support Diver
  • Grant Graves Support Diver and Project Director



Send questions or comments to the trilobite.
Questions and Comments To the Trilobite

The underwater conditions? Unbelievably clear water and a flat sandy bottom with little or no current. We could see the bottom from around 150 feet. The project overall was an example of being prepared for problems, but having everything not simply go as planned, but going better than planned and being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities. If you had told me we could splash, send up the MHS and leave the bottom in 6 minutes I would have said no way. But because everyone did his job superbly and we had excellent conditions, that’s exactly what happened.
Karl Shreeves

The project went well. I was impressed with everyone on the project. Everybody was friendly, professional and did their job well. With respect to the bottom, the teamwork was great. I think the time it took speaks for itself.

Steve Mortell