This page is meant to be a learning tool for both members of other law enforcement agencies, as well as the general public to read and understand what resources the Massachusetts State Police Underwater Recovery Team has available to them. Please refer to the general contacts at the end of this page regarding any questions, or to request the assistance of the Underwater Recovery Team.
The Massachusetts State Police Underwater Recovery Team (URT) was established in October of 1968. At that time, the Team included 6 members, all stationed at Troop F, Logan International Airport. Today, the Team has grown to include a compliment of up to 30 members, stationed throughout the various Troops across the state. State Police Divers are highly skilled, professional individuals who, aside from the daily duties of a Trooper, are called upon in times of need to perform the delicate and sometimes emotionally gruelling task of search and recovery. As a separate entity from any other unit of the State Police, the URT is specially trained to perform a variety of water related missions. Although trained in many situations, the Team Commander makes the final decision regarding the participation of the team in a particular mission. Because safety is first and foremost, a mission which compromises the safety of any diver is immediately terminated.
As an added safety, the URT frequently calls on other units such as the Air Wing and Marine Unit as well as the US Coast Guard and Massachusetts Environmental Police for rapid transportation and support to remote areas of the Commonwealth.
URT members are available 24 hours a day and are ready for deployment to any part of the state at a moments notice. Because of the highly aquatic geography of Massachusetts, divers frequently perform missions in lakes, rivers, ponds, quarries, as well as the immediate coastline of Massachusetts including Cape Cod and the waters off the coasts of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Divers are trained to perform missions in these waters at all times of the year. In the winter months, this means diving in frigid waters sometimes covered in ice. At other times of the year, water conditions such as swift currents also pose particular challenges to divers. Aside from adverse water conditions due to weather, divers are also trained to work in confined spaces such as water wells and drainage pipes. These areas are extremely dangerous due to the limited room for movement and special equipment needed to perform such dives.
The URT acts as a mutual aid response group to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies both within and outside of the Commonwealth. The Team performs missions for such agencies as the MDC, MWRA, FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Customs, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Navy as well as local law enforcement and fire departments. Any agency may request the services of the URT for law enforcement related matters.
The most frequent demands for service fall under the following categories:
1) Active search and rescue: members of the URT are trained to assist in the recovery or rescue of individuals who have been involved in water related mishaps. This may include deploying from SP Air Wing, U.S. Coast Guard or other government helicopters to render services or perform other in water rescue or recovery missions.
2) Evidence location and recovery: the URT is frequently called upon by local law enforcement agencies as well as other agencies to locate and recover evidence used in a crime or evidence otherwise related to a case. This evidence may include, but is not limited to, knives, guns, ammunition, jewelry, tools, body parts, bones, and clothing. Special methods are employed by the Team to preserve evidence that has been recovered from water. In a recent case, a company's entire computer system was dumped in a river after burglars allegedly ransacked an office. The URT was able to recover the computers and preserve them in tanks of water from which they were recovered. The computers were then transported to a laboratory in California where they are currently undergoing a highly sophisticated drying and preservation process. The hope is that all the information on the computers will be retrieved, saving the company two years of work to replace the damaged files.
3) Body location and extrication: in the unfortunate event that a victim is believed to have been submerged underwater over an extended period of time, the URT is specially trained to recover the body. Body recoveries may be made where the victim has deceased from accidental drowning, suicide, homicide or even aircraft mishaps.
4) Vehicle location and recovery: the URT is frequently responsible for locating and assisting in the removal of vehicles submerged in water. In many of these cases, the vehicles are stolen and have been placed in a waterway as a means of disposal. In other cases, the vehicles have been involved in a motor vehicle accident and ended up submerged in water. Regardless of the the facts of the case, the main objective of the URT is to determine if there is anyone in the vehicle and make an attempt at rescuing them if possible. Once it is determined that the vehicle is clear of occupants, divers are responsible for rigging the vehicle to assist the tow company with removal.
5) Underwater survey for security purposes: divers are capable of performing missions to secure an underwater area to be free of explosives or any other type of life threatening device. Although divers are not trained in Explosive Ordinance Removal, they are able to identify such devices and mark the area for removal by military EOD personnel.
6) Hull searches: from time to time the URT is called on to perform a detailed search of the hull of a marine vessel. Hull searches are conducted for the U.S. Navy (U.S. Constitution), survey of vessels for U.S. Coast Guard and contraband searches of vessels for U.S. Customs.
7) Obstruction identification and removal: due to the amount of boat traffic and lobstering in Boston Harbor, agencies such as the US Coast Guard frequently request assistance in clearing fishing lines and nets as well as other debris from the propellers of their vessels. This routine mission is accomplished using conventional tools such as knives and hack saws.
The URT has conducted searches in recent high profile cases such as:
The Jeffrey Curley Case
Recovery of Charles Stuart
Search for John F. Kennedy JR's aircraft
The Gosule Case
For a dive matter in Massachusetts contact:
Lt. Leo R. Gerstel
U.S. Coast Guard Station-Boston
427 Commercial Street
Boston, MA 02109-1027
Office: (617) 523-6822
For dive matters specifically in Eastern Massachusetts contact:
Sgt. William Freeman
For dive matters specifically in Western Massachusetts (West of I-495) contact:
Trooper Blake Gilmore