An all-volunteer Alaska group stands ready to start responding to any water emergency in the state within two hours of being notified.

The Alaska Dive Search, Rescue and Recovery Team recently demonstrated some of its training techniques near Palmer. Several members cut a hole in a pond and sent divers under the ice to work on skills that included an emergency ascent, as well as training to deal with a failed regulator. One member also made his first dive under the ice.

"It's a whole new experience. You run into some psychological factors too, because you know there's only one way out," said team president Jeremy Lilly.

The non-profit group works with the state Department of Public Safety, at the request of its search and rescue coordinator, to provide water-response capabilities across Alaska.

The dive team, which operates year-round and can conduct night operations, also uses sonar to search for bodies of missing people, locate evidence and document underwater crime scenes. The team also works to prevent tragedies by providing education on boating and water safety.

Members of the Alaska Dive Search, Rescue and Recovery Team train near Palmer for underwater tasks across the state. (Joe Vigil/KTVA)

Near Palmer, team members dove about 65 feet under the ice. They were tethered to lines held by team members on the surface. 

"A lot of training we do is in black-water conditions so you can't see anything at all; light doesn't even penetrate it," Lilly said. "So you're relying on people on the surface to track how much air you have, how much you've been down, how deep you went – and they're literally your lifeline."

The non-profit group relies on donations to fund equipment maintenance and training and welcomes volunteers.

During 2018, the team was deployed on 15 missions – many of which Lilly says were recovery operations.

"It gets pretty tough, especially in a lot of situations where we're doing searches for longer periods of time," Lilly said. "We get to know the family as well."

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