Navy, FBI assisting county divers

The U.S. Navy and FBI gave Hennepin County divers a much-needed break Tuesday in the search for eight missing victims of the I-35W bridge collapse.

Divers from the Navy’s Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit 2, based in Virginia, took to the water at 2 a.m. to continue the search. FBI Underwater Search and Evidence response teams were expected to join the effort later in the day.

Hennepin County divers, who have been in the river since the collapse and working 16-hour shifts in recent days, were out of the water today. Several were on standby in case they were needed.

Other than the five bodies recovered shortly after the collapse, no bodies have been found, which Capt. Bill Chandler, a diving supervisor for the Sheriff’s Department, said is frustrating. But the department has been in close contact with families of the missing and Chandler said divers are dedicated to reuniting them with their loved ones.

Chandler said it’s likely some of the victims are trapped in the rubble. They might have floated to the surface within days of the collapse if they were not, he said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who is overseeing the recovery effort, said the water conditions are becoming more dangerous as divers move into the wreckage, cutting away chunks of mangled concrete and steel in an attempt to find victims. Two cars were recently pulled from the river to aid divers near the scene, he said.

Dive teams continued to use sonar to locate submerged vehicles and other technology such as remote operated submersibles. Divers are also using torches and other cutting tools to make their way through the rubble.

Navy Diving and Salvage Supervisor Richard Hooper said his divers are specifically trained to penetrate underwater wreckage, though shipwrecks are a more common scene. He said two dive teams of eight spent much of the day looking for access points and methodically cutting and shifting pieces of the bridge.