NHCSO marine and dive units use new tools to assist in search for Mariah Woods

NHCSO marine and dive units use new tools to assist in search for Mariah Woods

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Onslow County Sheriff's Office, the medical examiner and the District attorney confirmed Wednesday remains found in a creek are that of missing 3-year-old Mariah Woods.

More than 48 federal and state agencies searched for her for nearly a week before she was found in Pender County Saturday.

Two of those agencies were the dive unit and marine units from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.

With more than 134,000 square miles of water in the county's jurisdiction, they have unfortunately had their fair share of water rescues and body recovery operations. While they didn't find Mariah personally, they used new devices in the extensive search of Southwest Creek near Mariah's home.

"We attempted with the sonar and the robot to try to locate anything under the water," said Sgt. Daryl Taaffe with the dive unit.

Eight members of the sheriff's office dive team along with the marine unit worked 16-hour days scanning every inch of Southwest Creek for any sign of Mariah.

"It's very tedious. It takes a long time," Taaffe said. "Our divers can only spend so much time underwater and they go very slow. There is a lot of debris on the bottom, climbing over rocks and trees. You have to search it all with your hands back and forth."

It's a meticulous, painstaking task for the teams, but thanks to a new $70,000 grant, the underwater hunt was a bit easier than past body recovery attempts.

A new communication unit, wet suits, and breathing apparatuses were put to the test in the search for Mariah. The communications system lets them talk to two divers at a time in the water. They used to rely on tugging on ropes and using signals.

Side sonar technology and robots were also deployed since divers could only spend 20 minutes in the brackish, murky water.

"The side scanning sonar plays an absolute role because it gives us a good image. If you are searching for a vehicle, you can so clear that it's a Ford F-150. The clarity is remarkable," Lt. Jerry Brewer said.

Technology aside, the biggest tool in this search was simply the hearts of the dive team members themselves.

"It's the biggest thing that keeps us going is knowing we are searching for a child. We are looking for a body to give a loved one peace, if that is possible," Taaffe said.

A public visitation took place for Mariah Wednesday in Jacksonville.

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