Vehicle at the bottom of the lake: Now what?

Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald on

Published in Outdoors

"It's getting to be more and more because of how well we're getting known and insurance companies calling us direct," Thompson said. "'Dirty Jobs' put us on the map."

Tri-State shoots photos or video of all of its retrieval jobs and posts the footage on Facebook, Thompson said, which also helps to spread the word.

"Plus, there are a lot of the areas where conservation officers know the kind of work we do, and they refer (people) to us," he said.

Tri-State uses a device called a SUVE (pronounced soo-vee) -- which stands for Submerged Underwater Vehicle Extractor -- for retrieving vehicles. In very basic terms, the SUVE is like a big teeter totter with a winch on the top to raise whatever's submerged to the surface. Thompson has patents on both the apparatus and the teeter-totter concept it employs, he says.

"It's just two rails (the vehicle) rides up, and once it's up on top and gets past center, we just bring it down on the ice," Thompson said.

A foot to 2 feet of ice is preferred for retrieving a vehicle with the SUVE, Thompson says, but he also has used it on 9 to 10 inches of clear ice.

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For smaller vehicles, the crew uses a lighter bipod apparatus. Safety is paramount to everything they do, Thompson says.

"We don't move anything until we determine how good the ice is," he said. "We'll use the bipod on about 4 or 5 inches of ice and bring up an ATV. If it's a side-by-side (vehicle), then I usually need about 6 inches of ice to bring them up safely."

A typical vehicle recovery using the SUVE takes 3 to 4 hours while ATVs and snowmobiles typically take no more than an hour or two, Thompson says. The crew, which varies from three to five or more depending on the size of the job, tries to avoid working in extreme weather, he says.

"I'd rather have a day with 0 degrees and no wind than a day that's 30 degrees and wind," he said. "That wind just bites."


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