A pre-established protocol is essential for victim retrieval. When the team is looking for a body, there are many psychological effects on both the rescuer, and the victim’s family. If the team is in the rescue mode, meaning the victim has a chance of being viable. If the team is using a tender, a predetermined signal should be used to show the victim has been found. Once found the rescuer needs to get a firm grip on the victim to the surface as safely and quickly as possible. If a line tender is being used, they should alert the surface team that the victim has been recovered. At the point that the signal was given the tender should tie a loop in the line and get a compass heading shooting down the line, so that the location can be found again. Note all reference points. The tender needs to keep the slack out of the line as the rescuer surfaces, but the diver should never be pulled up
Immediately upon surfacing the airway must be opened and the victim brought to shore.
In a recovery operation the team needs not make any changes or speed in their search. Normally if the victim has been in the water for over one hour the team reverts to recovery. Water temperature, and victim’s age and mechanism of injury, play a factor in this one hour. The shift should be made discreetly for the sake of family and friends. Once the decision has been made to go from rescue to recovery all related agencies need to be notified.
Currents can be a problem to the dive team if not understood. A lot of times someone will suggest that the team start their operations down current from the actual drowning location. It is always best to start any search at the point the object was lost, even in rivers.
Rivers are almost always shallow and have strong currents. When a victim drowns in one always start at the location of the drowning but keep in mind that the body may be located a long distance away. Another characteristic of rivers are they can have natural entrapment sites. These are rocks holes, trees or any thing else that will trap a victim. Rapids and water falls should be searched from the shore. The divers should know that anything in a river that can trap a victim also can trap the diver.
When the body is found and a tender is used the team should have a signal to start body recovery. A back up team should have a stokes basket ready to recover the body. The diver should mark the spot with a marker buoy.
Before the body is brought to the surface, the family and media should be pulled back. The easiest way to remove a body is a team approach using a stokes basket. There are specially made water body bags. Normal body bags should never be used in water. The search line marker should remain attached until the body is out of the water.
The position of the body must be noted and anything in the victim’s hands should be bagged. Rigor mortis is caused by lactic acid build up and will vary with water temperature and time of death. Postmortem lividity is the pooling of blood after death and should be compared to the body’s position in the water. Dive team members are not pathologists and should never guess as to cause of death. All wounds should be noted.
Body ruffled is when a body naturally comes to the surface on its own. There are a number of conditions that affect this. Once a body sinks it will always go to the bottom unless it gets hung up in a tree. When a body starts to surface it will go all the way to the surface. This refloat is caused by gases trapped in the body. As decomposition occurs it creates gas build up in the body cavities particularly the abdomen. Decomposition is the disintegration of the body’s tissues and is the primary factor effecting refloat. The speed of decomposition dictates the speed of refloat. Water temperature is the major contributory factor. Cool and cold water slows up the process. Deep water is cooler and gasses diffuse more quickly into cool water that inhibits gas buildup. Also the greater the depth, the greater the pressure that limits buoyancy. Also how long the body remains on the surface depends on how long it takes for the gasses to escape. It is extremely difficult to predict body refloat. There are to many variables to consider.