Total team effort to find missing diver

Published 12:34 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer
This past week, I covered the search to locate a missing diver at the Dive Alabama quarry off of Industrial Park Drive in Pelham. While I saw the tragedy of a family losing a loved one, I also saw a tireless effort from a dedicated group of searchers and an outpouring of community support from Pelham, Shelby County, Alabama and states across the southeast.
On Oct. 4, Daren Gray of Spring Hill, Tenn., failed to report back from a routine solo dive at a Pelham quarry. Dive Alabama called and reported Gray missing. A search led by the Pelham Fire Department began immediately.
As the search continued, numerous law enforcement agencies joined the effort, including the Marine Police, Calera Police Department, Hoover Police Department, Trussville Fire Department, Alexander City and Hardin County, Tenn., rescue squads. In all, more than 20 agencies participated in the search.
“Seeing the community support this effort, that has been amazing,” Pelham Fire Department Chief Danny Ray said. “All we’ve had to do is ask… it’s just amazing… the southern hospitality of the community.”
Technology resources from 3-D mapping sector scan sonar to remotely operated underwater vehicles were brought in from across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Numerous civilian volunteers were also on hand throughout the entire search operation. Gray’s friends and fellow divers helped searchers navigate the quarry and identified areas Gray liked to dive. Highly trained technical divers volunteered their skills and searched the deepest parts of the quarry throughout the week.
Local businesses and organizations pitched in as well. The Holiday Inn and Waffle House in Pelham offered discounted housing and free meals for rescue workers while the Red Cross was onsite throughout the operation providing snacks to searchers.
“I don’t think we’ll ever put a dollar figure on what’s been volunteered,” Pelham Fire Department Deputy Chief Blair Sides said.
After more than five full days of searching, Gray’s body was located at 5:28 p.m. on Oct. 9.
“It has been a big operation,” Sides said during an Oct. 9 press conference. “Through the coordinated effort of everyone, we were able to close (the recovery operation).”
Although the story does not necessarily have a happy ending, sometimes the most difficult situations also reveal the care, compassion and strength of a community.