Utah County search and rescue boat is team’s newest lifesaving tool

Jun 14, 2024, 9:01 AM

PROVO — Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue has a new tool to save lives out on the lake this summer, allowing them to respond in a way they’ve never been able to before if there’s trouble on the water.

Thursday afternoon, Utah County search and rescue volunteers Brandon Scott and Steve Gorrell, along with Utah County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Erik Knutzen, hopped onto a 30-foot aluminum Munson boat and pushed off from the dock at Utah Lake.

Knutzen stood inside at the helm, guiding the boat toward the open waters outside the marina. Scott and Gorrell watched as they passed boats filled with people out for a fun day on the lake.

They’ve both seen what can happen when summer storms and microbursts roll in and things go south.

“Those windstorms that come up, the waves start really quick,” explained Gorrell, a search and rescue incident commander. “The temperature changes, and then they kind of lose orientation.”

“Wind-wise… as soon as that kicks up, you’re getting 6-foot swells, and you’re gone,” Scott said.

It leaves the search and rescue team racing against the clock, trying to find a needle in a haystack if someone goes missing on the lake. They’ve seen people get pushed 5 miles away from where they disappeared. Scott once responded to a call of a jet ski that drifted back to shore without anyone on it, not knowing where to look for the lost person.

“Just the amount of time that we had to spend out here, searching and searching … we had resources that were doing it. But I mean, look how big this lake is,” Scott said, gesturing toward the vast murky expanse.

But now, search and rescue team members can respond faster thanks to a new boat the Utah County Sheriff’s Office purchased, which debuted on the lake a couple of weeks ago.

Scott, Gorrell and Knutzen described how the boat is equipped to act as an incident command center for the major callouts and recoveries.

“We could be out here for anywhere for a week, nine days, 10 days, and we needed a boat that gave us a command center capability out on the water where the search is being performed,” Knutzen said.

The entire front of the boat can turn into a ramp that lowers into the water, with metal stairs that swing out so they can easily pull people out of the water.

“We just simply want to grab the person. If they’re on a medical board, we can slide right onto the deck of the boat,” Knutzen said.

It will also serve as a floating ambulance, with features like a medical bench with medical equipment.

“They have the ability to perform, if need be, lifesaving measures here on the boat,” Knutzen said.

Plus, it is now Utah County search and rescue’s most powerful search vessel, in a lake where the visibility is almost zero. It has the latest technology, which Knutzen said gives them a more accurate underwater searchability.

Scott is a diver on the team and said it can take a long time to find someone under the surface.

“You’re flying blind, just trying to reach for anything you can,” he said. “With this, with the sonar system that’s on it, it’s great because we can park right above it and be like, OK, they’re right there.”

Even when rescues turn into recoveries, Scott expects the new boat will shave days off of a search that will make a difference for mourning families.

“We’ll definitely speed up our time for recovery to bring closure to their family,” he said. “So they’re not wondering where and what happened.”

The boat will stay parked at Utah Lake for the summer, and the team can transport it to other bodies of water around the state as needed.

Gorrell pointed out that they’ll likely find use year-round, with hunters and others using the lake in the winter.

“We’re trying to serve the community and help them,” he said.

The next time search and rescue is called out to a lake, they’ll be ready.

“Definitely speeds up the time and keeps everything safe,” Scott said.

“We leave at any time,” Gorrell said. “Twenty-four hours a day if someone’s in need.”

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Utah County search and rescue boat is team’s newest lifesaving tool