Archives for May 2014

New Denver Update Day 4

We know there have been several people asking about an update here in British Columbia. It’s been difficult since our long drive, getting up early and staying up late to review the sonar images we collect during the day to properly write an update. We have lots of photos and video to share once there sufficient time to properly edit and upload. You’ll get a kick out of the “police escort’ we had coming off the water on day 3 when we were stranded in the middle of Slocan Lake due to boat issue.

Upon our arrival to New Denver Friday night we met with Kathy Nicholls; the grandmother of Sky Donnet and Seargent Darrell Little of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We were briefed and made a plan for the following morning to go out and run the side scan sonar. The Vernon Search and Rescue team had been running sonar and using an ROV the previous several days. We were glad they decided to stay and work with us to cover as much ground as possible. They mentioned the terrain was difficult and we were about to find out just how brutal it was to run the sonar towfish.

Saturday morning we set up our equipment on the Nakusp rescue boat. The local firemen put there handy craftsman skills to work rigging things up so we could effectively run a large winch off the back of the boat. Dave Sutton of Shipwreck Explorers was kind enough to lend his winch and cable which is much longer than ours. We knew Slocan Lake had some depths over 600’ and what we have, wouldn’t get our towfish deep enough for the best possible images.

Once we got started things went ok and we scanned some potential targets of interest. The Vernon SAR would then use their ROV to check out what we picked up on the sonar. No doubt the terrain is extremely difficult to scan. Slocan Lake is in the mountains and they are steep. So imagine these same mountains continuing into the water down to depths of 900’. It’s similar to an iceberg. 10% is at the surface and you need to be extremely leery of what is below the surface that you can’t see. When searching for bodies the towfish that is dragged behind the boat, needs to be as close to the ground as possible. Our hurdles were the depths and incredibly steep peaks and valleys that come up so fast our towfish would hit the rocks. Not a good thing to say the least.

The second day of searching started out with us getting geared up on a different boat. Big John lined up a pontoon boat from a local guy named Darrell. His boat was absolutely perfect for what we needed. We tip our hat to Darrell for building this beauty and allowing us to use it for a couple days. Day 2 was unsuccessful and the weather moved in quickly, taking us off the water.

Later we met with Kathy and her sons Richard and Steven to eat dinner and share our images and update them on our progress. Sky is Richard’s son.

Going into Day 3 we were optimistic feeling we had a solid plan to manage the fast changing terrain with our sonar passes. We had nobody else on the water and the lake was calm. RCMP Art, was driving the boat for us on his time off. Pulling out of the marina after getting our equipment set up, we noticed a change in the boat motor. It was running full throttle but acted like it was starving for fuel. It ran well enough for us to run the sonar so we kept at it. Our plan of running the sonar along the underwater cliffs was working really well. Finally we had the images we needed to see top to bottom without missing much. Everything was going to plan until the boat motor stopped about 3pm. We ended up with a police escort having been towed in by the RCMP zodiac. Once again, a setback we could do without.

We figured out what was wrong with the boat motor upon arriving into the marina. An electric fuel pump wire came unplugged. Unfortunately we had just unloaded all our equipment before realizing what a simple fix it was. We found a couple targets to look for with the ROV just before the boat motor died so the plan for Day 4 was to put the sonar away and focus on using the ROV to see what was below the surface and check out our targets.

We had been staying about 34 km away in Nakusp so we moved our hotel to New Denver. The owner of Dome Quixote, Joan, put us up in her unique and beautiful dome hotel. We had dinner with Kathy and her family that evening.

Day 4 put us out on Lake Slocan with RCMP Chris to check out the targets we picked up previously with the sonar. Once we had our anchors set we were effectively covering ground. Things were going smooth until we found the boat we were on needed to come back to the marina. It was a tough pill to swallow given the conditions were perfect on the water and we were making excellent progress clearing the most likely area for the victims.

We couldn’t walk away after driving so far and not providing the family and community the closure they would like. Especially after the setbacks we had been dealt. So Kathy made some phone calls and lined up another boat. Lex, the owner of Jones Boys Boats hooked us up with a boat to use for the next couple days and we can’t thank him enough. Our plan is to finish working the area of the last seen point where a hiker had seen 2 people clinging to the canoe.

It’s been an eventful past several days and I wish I had the time and energy to share more details. We’re giving it our all and want so badly to come through with results for everyone involved.

Every member of the RCMP has been tremendous to work with and they should be proud of the effort they put in. Thank you to everyone who has wished us well and thanked us for making our way to New Denver. We hope we have some positive news to report on soon.

New Denver British Columbia Search

New Denver British Columbia Search bruces legacy

Call it fate or call it what you will; we had a chance encounter with a wonderful woman in Canada, February of this year. We flew into Vancouver and scheduled a float plane to fly us to Nanaimo Bay on Vancouver Island. Scheduled  were 3 days of training with Seamore Marine and our new ROV-remote operated vehicle.

Since the weather wasn’t cooperating our flight was cancelled and the alternative route left us hopping a bus, subway and taxi ride to get to the ferry which was a 2 hour ride to Nanaimo Bay. Kathy Nicholls who lives on Vancouver Island was in the same predicament, only she knew her way around. She let us ride her coat tails and held our hand navigating the jaunt to the ferry boat.

Sometimes when you travel you meet people you want to run from and others you could sit for hours with. Fortunately, Kathy was the latter. We had a few hours together sharing, laughing and she showed us some amazing footage of the orcas hunting dolphins in the bay where we were staying. When the ferry arrived in Nanaimo Bay, I though that would probably be the last we’d see her, as is what happens with most traveling encounters from my experience. You enjoy the person and the moment for what it’s worth and then move on.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Kathy’s presence and would love to spend more time with her, I’m saddened to say we will be meeting again soon but on terms we could’ve least expected. Tragically her grandson, Skye and 2 other friends are missing in Slocan Lake, New Denver, British Columbia from a canoe accident. A fourth victim , 19 year old Lily Harmer-Taylor, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Kathy contacted us Tuesday and informed us of the heartbreaking situation. Kathy and the RCMP have asked us to make our way so that we can assist the search and recovery, utilizing our sonar and rov equipment. 1734 miles and 27 hours of drive time are not stopping us from helping Kathy, her family and the and the New Denver community. At the moment of writing this we are in Billings Montana for the night. We have already driven 14 hours today and have another 13 hours of driving ahead of us. I’m copying content below from an article regarding the canoe accident and will continue to keep this case updated. We will post again Friday night. New Denver British Columbia Search


The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is calling in side-scan radar and an underwater remote vehicle to find three missing males in a southeastern B.C. lake that could be as deep as 210 metres. (630 feet)

RCMP divers on Tuesday wrapped up another day’s search for 15-year-old Jule Wiltshire-Padfield, 21-year-old Hayden Kyle and 19-year-old Skye Donnet.

They were among a group of four involved in a Saturday canoeing accident on Slocan Lake near the mountain village of New Denver that also claimed the life of 19-year-old Lily Harmer-Taylor.

RCMP Sgt. Darryl Little says divers searched an area of the lake known as Bigelow Bay on Tuesday and have now asked Emergency Management BC for additional equipment.

He says the lake is more than 120-metres deep where the canoe overturned, and is estimated to be between 180 and 210 metres in other areas.

Little says the divers will continue their underwater work on Wednesday.

Complete Article Here by the Calgary Herald

John Villafranco search update

watertown search sonar rov john villafranco bruces legacy

As some of you know we traveled 16 hours to Watertown New York to aid in the search of John Villafranco. We were in contact with John’s parents Gilbert and Blanche Villafranco as well as the Watertown authorities to arrange us searching the area. Monday, May 5th we used the side scan sonar to search the part of the river where John was last seen. We then moved locations to a canal that runs between a set of hydro gates. With the assistance of some some polic

e and firemen we were able to lift our boat over the side of a wall so that we could get into the canal. This isn’t the first nor will it be the last time we have to get creative in order to make passes with the sonar or rov happen. After searching the canal with sonar we deemed John wasn’t there. We packed up the gear and made a plan for the following day to use the ROV in specific areas.

While in our hotel we reviewed the sonar images from the day. There was a pile of rocks with something wedged in between that resembled the shape of a body. Of all the images from the day it was the only spot we felt needed a closer look.

So first thing Tuesday morning, we set up the ROV to get eyes on our potential

target. The current was extremely strong from up river and at the same point we were working, forced a large and strong eddy current. Conditions were challenging and after some time we found out it was a log in between the rock pile.

An engineer from the hydro plant company was of great insight as to how objects collect in front of the hydro walls and how they pass through the spillways down river. He was generous enough to stop the turbines so we could make passes with the sonar the day before and also Tuesday with the ROV. After inspecting the hdyro gates we could see the debris piles and potential for something to get stuck but John Villafranco was not amongst any of it.

After exhausting all the resources we had and given the conditions we were working in, it was decided there wasn’t anything else we could do. It’s not easy walking away when you aren’t able to provide the closure to the family we had hoped for. We invest so much of ourselves into these cases and it’s incredibly frustrating to not give Gilbert and Blanche the peace they deserve. We can only hope for their sake John is found soon. The efforts of the Watertown authorities is commendable. It was a pleasure working alongside them and they were tremendous support every step of the way. We tip our hats to them because they’ve had to manage this case for over 2 weeks now.

We have never seen the type of water activity like there is on the city of Watertown. We had to be extremely careful where we were running our boat and equipment. I will post some videos of how close we were in proximity to some of this crazy waterway. Possibly a kayakers heaven but in a flat bottom boat with expensive equipment; not so much.

Watertown New York Black River Search Images


Watertown New York Search for John Villafranco

Gilbert and Blanche Villafranco have searched the banks of the Black River every day for their son, who fell out of a canoe two weeks ago. John Villafranco would have been 25 years old this month. His body has not been recovered.

Gilbert Villafranco says his son died a hero — while saving his wife.

The police department has put a very good effort in trying to locate the body but so far but John has been elusive. Today we ran the side scan sonar in the area John was last seen. As well, we deposited our boat and sonar into a canal that diverts water to a hydro plant. The firemen and police of Watertown have been absolutely stellar in helping us move equipment to make these searches possible. As usual, no search is identical and requires a bit of ingenuity and careful planning to get the imaging we need to scan an area. The canal we scanned today, couldn’t have happened without some great effort by a good group of people. Unfortunately we haven’t located John yet.

Trying to locate a body in rivers is extremely difficult. So many factors come into play that affect the outcome. Now that we have our sonar images we plan to post-process and see what we find. Our plan for May 6 is to use the ROV to put eyes under water and sort through all the debris which can hide a body and/or distort our side scan sonar images.

Our sincerest wish is to help the Villafrancos get there son back.

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