Navy, FBI divers arrive to boost Minn. bridge collapse effort; pause planned to honor victims

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People travel over I-35W on University Avenue near the collapsed I-35W bridge.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Minneapolis Police Capt. Mike Martin local divers could only do so much in their effort to survey bridge wreckage and search for victims. Now he says out side teams have taken the search to a new level.

"They're starting to remove debris that our public safety divers couldn't get to," he said. "That is down by the sheriff's command post. They are actively working to get in there and recover any victims that we can find or any evidence that we can find."

Martin says that debris removal is being done in consultation with representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board. It's an effort to ensure the rubble removal will not compromise the NTSB's investigation into the cause of bridge collapse.

The Navy has arrived
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Navy Capt. Richard Hooper.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Martin says the Navy divers arrived with truckloads of equipment.

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"They're the best divers in the world; if you doubt that, just ask them. These guys make our SWAT team look humble," Martin said.

Martin says the Navy team insisted on getting into the water as soon as their equipment was in place. That was 2 a.m.

"The public safety divers are trained up to a level where they can kind of pick the low-hanging fruit. They can do the stuff that's easy. The bodies that are in the areas where they can sweep shore to shore, the vehicles that they can get into and search that weren't crushed. They were able to remove some of those. Now what we're looking at is the vehicles that are under the bridge deck and the structural pieces," he said.

At a news conference later in the day Navy Capt. Richard Hooper, who supervises the Navy salvage and dive operations, said, "This type of diving is not done in SCUBA. We have SCUBA gear here, but it's here just as a standby for an assist role. This is done in very robust hard-hat diving for going into this type of wreckage, because you're interested in the protection of the divers first and they've had the training to go into wreckage like this. As I said before most of the time it's in the context of a damaged ship."

Hooper says two Navy teams comprised of 16 divers are working the site. FBI divers and evidence recovery experts are also on hand with high tech sonar mapping devices.

And officials say they're running patrols around the clock on the river for six miles south of wreckage to the Ford lock and dam in hopes of spotting any victims that could come loose from the rumble as the work to find them continues on.