Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Scuba Divers Search for Vehicles, Bodies in Florida Waterways

Utilizing the sport we love for noble causes.

Headed home to Tampa after a family visit in Fort Lauderdale, a pregnant mother loaded her two young daughters into a minivan and took off.

No one has seen Nelta Jacques, then 27, and her children since that summer day nine years ago.

A local group of volunteers that includes divers and investigators thinks clues to the family's disappearance may lie at the bottom of a canal, the trio possibly victims of a watery car crash that had no witnesses.

The haunting scenario plays out often enough in South Florida that the volunteers set out Saturday morning, as they have several times before, to scour an area waterway and mark submerged vehicles that law enforcement divers can later pull out and investigate. This time — and despite some rain storms — they focused on a canal section just west of Hiatus Road, at Oakland Park Boulevard.

"I hope we can find someone or something to give some family closure," said volunteer Alison McManus.

Two years ago, Broward Sheriff's Office divers found her teenage nephew's remains inside a pickup truck submerged in the canal along U.S. 27, near Griffin Road. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. He had been missing about seven months.

On Saturday, about a dozen people still searching for missing loved ones watched the search from the canal bank, huddled under umbrellas.

Three men in scuba gear bobbed in the murky water. They swung 3-foot long PVC pipes below the surface, feeling around in about 10 feet of water, waiting for the dull "ding" indicating a large metal object had been found.

Derek Borrero, who leads the team of divers and organized the search with McManus and Missing Children International Ministries, of Pembroke Pines, says the volunteers fill a need that local authorities often cannot.

"I know they're dealing with cutbacks and budget stuff and there are tons of canals here in South Florida," he said.

The volunteers didn't find anything significant Saturday but are planning future searches, to look for Jacques' green 1996 Dodge Caravan. And the '64 Nash Rambler belonging to Teresa Fittin, 18, missing since 1975 from Fort Lauderdale. And the '97 Ford Thunderbird William Naylor, 69, left his Coconut Creek home in nearly three years ago.

The list goes on and on.

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