Established in 1959, the Garden State Underwater Recovery Unit is the second oldest volunteer dive team in the nation, performing approximately a dozen recoveries each year.
When hope has dwindled and the first wave of rescue and recovery teams have been exhausted, families turn to the Garden State Underwater Recovery Unit (GSURU) to return the body of their loved one who has drowned.
As emotionally grueling and physically challenging as the work is, members of GSURU agree that helping a grieving family attain some semblance of closure, brings a profound sense of satisfaction.
“Nothing prepares you for this kind of tragedy,” said Gerry Boylan, a resident of Clinton Township and captain of the all-volunteer team of divers that recovered the body of Shane Montgomery on Jan. 3.
Montgomery, a college senior, disappeared on Thanksgiving morning and was last seen heading toward the Schuylkill River in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. GSURU was called in three weeks later.
Boylan said when someone drowns it is overwhelming for the family and especially difficult when a parent loses a child because a parent’s natural inclination is to keep their child safe. He said in the case of someone drowning, often there is no one to turn to for help if the body is not immediately recovered.
“Garden State gets involved when all others give up. We do the best we can because otherwise, they may wait on the bank of that river or lake for months,” said member Vince Scarponi, a resident of Lebanon Borough.
Scarponi said he considers the work they do — a calling.
Based in Millford, and established in 1960, GSURU is comprised of an average of 25 members and is the second oldest volunteer dive team in the nation.
The team recovers an average of 10 drowning victims each year and has rescued trapped flood victims from homes and cars, assisted law enforcement with underwater evidence searches, and provides water safety assistance at community events.
Search for Shane Montgomery
The family of Shane Montgomery heard about GSURU from a family in the Philadelphia area helped by the team last year.
“We all work as a team, from the boat operators to the safety divers and even the people who get coffee for us. We work as one unit,” said member Andy Pasko, who spotted Shane Montgomery on the third day of the search.
Pasko, a resident of Lebanon and a retired professional commercial diver who began his training in 1980 admits that the work never becomes routine.
“There is a lot of anxiety at first because you don’t know what you are getting into. Water conditions and debris in the water which you can become tangled in, are all unknowns,” he said.
Another long-time member of the team, Greg Mactye, a resident of Milford, who served as the captain of the team when Montgomery’s uncle first contacted the team on Dec. 14 and handled the initial set up and command of the operation for the first two days of the search on Dec. 21 and 28.
Mactye said one thing that was different about this particular search is that they had almost no idea where to begin.
“Usually there’s a witness who saw the accident take place, debris connected with the missing party along the shoreline or in the water, or some other clue which at least gives us an inkling of were to begin our efforts,” Mactye said.
He said in this case, all the team had to go on was a surveillance video of Montgomery crossing a bridge over the canal.
“Unfortunately the tape ended without showing where Shane went after he crossed the bridge, and we had to guess as to his movements,” Mactye said.
He said the team worked with the Philadelphia Marine police, the NW Philadelphia Detective division, with support from the Manayunk Police Department as well as numerous individuals and organizations from the community, who came together to help the family in many ways.
In agreement with other team members, what GSURU brings to every mission is tenacity.
“We hate to give up, or to let the family down, and we will usually continue to search for someone for as long as our time and finances allow us,” he said.
Mactye said a number of the unit’s members attended the wake and funeral last week. At the wake, Montgomery’s grandmother hugged each of the members and said, “Thank you for bringing my grandson back to me.”
For more information about Garden State Underwater Recovery Unit visithttp://www.gsuru.us/.