by Shawntay Lewis

Dozens of divers took to the shores of Gross Ile Wednesday in the 65-degree waters of the Detroit River and Lake Erie for what is believed to be the largest diving team exercise in Michigan.

The Search and Rescue Team exercise simulated a plane crash, coordinated by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, which began around 8 a.m. and ended around 2 p.m. The exercise assembled seven strike teams from the Southeast Michigan Dive Group to the Gross Ile Municipal Airport in response to a simulated plane crash.

In the simulation, teams were told a “small plane with engine trouble” had crashed into Gibraltar Bay and a resident called 911 to report the crash, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said. A plane replica was used in the exercise and divers had to maneuver through the underwater wreckage to perform the simulated underwater rescue and recovery of victims, among other duties. Divers used side-scan sonar, lift bags and other specialized equipment to respond to the simulated wreckage.

“The goal is to save lives and increase the capabilities of the dive group so that if this were an actual event, the teams would have experience responding to such incidents, know the equipment and what the teams can do. Regular training is vital to having the team work as a unit,” the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, as well as teams from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Downriver Mutual Aid, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with police departments from Detroit, Saginaw and Windsor, Ontario, joined in the group exercise. In all, about 15 agencies and about 55 divers joined the exercise, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said.

The agencies are part of the Southeast Michigan Dive Group, a dive group comprised of 21 Michigan counties coordinated by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the dive group is one of the largest dive and rescue teams in the United States.

“The Southeast Michigan Dive Group is now what I believe is the largest consortium dive group in America. So the combined power of that, if you will, allows them to bring tremendous people and resources to a situation,” Bouchard said.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office coordinates two to three search and rescue diving exercises a year. The next exercise will take place in July in Bay County.

Bouchard said the efforts each county is putting into the dive group is improving the emergency response capabilities in the region.

“I’m super proud of all of the members who have joined the dive group and my team who is coordinating this across the 21 counties. I know they’re putting in a ton of time to do this, but it gives us the capability to respond to any kind of emergency,” the sheriff said.