July 22, 2013 By Jessica Hughes
In Long Beach, Calif., rescue divers searching for submerged victims once swam patterns near blind through murky waters -- but they now have the gift of "sight" thanks to a new handheld sonar device.
The Long Beach Fire Department recently acquired the technology, called the Shark Marine Navigator, so that the city's Public Safety Dive Team can conduct even quicker rescues -- and act with sight during that 20-minute sensitive period where victims still have a chance of survival.
"For us it's just night and day; clearly, it's the ability to see where you couldn't see before," said Gonzalo Medina, Operations Captain for the Long Beach Fire Department's Marine Safety Division.
During rescue missions, divers steer the heavy-duty device and its laptop-size screen through the water using its metal handles. The device illuminates up to 250 meters underwater in zero visibility, and also has the capacity to take video and photographs. All the information is stored, and can be managed and shared using the device's software, according to Shark Marine's Web site.
The device's display is similar to an ultrasound -- the 2D version, that is, with some depth. Medina said the diver can see green tones, where bright green indicates something is there. And it is easy to see objects that are out of the ordinary, he said, such as a body.