ROV Helps Solve Lake Seneca Mystery

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Aquatic Center of Rochester is a full service dive shop in Henrietta, NY. In addition to carrying a complete line of scuba equipment, and offering full range of scuba training courses, company owner Joe Plano also provides ROV inspection services. Several years ago Joe purchased his Fisher SeaOtter ROV to perform an inspection on one of New York’s barge canal system locks. The job involved penetrating a tunnel at the bottom of the 40 foot deep lock to locate and examining a 1/2 ton steel gate that had jammed in the open position. The SeaOtter was able to complete the inspection, in near zero visibility, and a videotape was supplied to state canal engineers. Since that first job Joe has become quite proficient at handling the SeaOtter and has gained a reputation as a skilled ROV operator. Recently Joe was hired by a Massachusetts firm to help with the recovery of some acoustic equipment from Lake Seneca, the site of the US Navy’s sonar test platform. The Seneca Lake Sonar Test Facility is a field station of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and is world renown as a sonar test site. The 650 foot deep fresh water lake provides a controlled environment for acoustic testing in weather conditions that are relatively calm in comparison to the ocean or Great Lakes. The facility offers heavy load-handling capability, an abundance of power, and is located only an hour from Syracuse or Rochester airports. An automobile size device had been lowered from the platform and anchored to the bottom for testing. When the tests were completed, an explosive charge was supposed to sever the cable between the device and the anchor, allowing it to be raised to the surface. However, after detonating the charge, the device wouldn’t budge, even under 4,000 lbs of pull from the on-board crane. Why the device wouldn’t rise to the surface was a mystery that had the engineers scratching their heads. A decision was made to call in Joe with his SeaOtter to see what was going on. Maneuvering the ROV through the tangle of cables to the bottom 500 feet below was no easy task, but Joe finally managed to locate the acoustic device. He positioned the ROV to view the cable connecting the device to the anchor. Using his “underwater eyeball” he could clearly see the problem. The explosive charge had severed the cable, but as the cable passed through the eye of the anchor, it became twisted and hung up. Once engineers were able to see the problem, a solution was quickly implemented and the device was raised to the surface. Use of the ROV had eliminated the need for a very expensive deep water commercial dive operation saving the company thousands of dollars. Joe and his SeaOtter were the heroes of the day.
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