Diving on Smith Lake

With so many questions swirling around about the recent tragedies on our lake, I took the opportunity to chat with a seasoned diver of 45 years and retired Dive Master/Scuba instructor who has been onsite working with the public safety teams.   

As you may know, Lewis Smith Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the country. Maximum depth at
Trump Tower in New York City
the damn is 264’. To give you an idea that is about as tall as Trump Tower in New York City.  Rock Creek, not being to far from the dam, it is one of the deepest areas on the lake. Like all Alabama lakes, Smith is man-made.  In the 1950's when Smith was being built and prepared a “band cut” was made around the entire lake. A band cut is defined as all trees that were to be 60’ or less deep once the water backed up were cut. All trees that would be 60’ or deeper once the water backed up were LEFT STANDING! Thus there is literally an underwater forest in all deeper areas of Smith Lake.  This makes diving those areas EXTREMELY dangerous. Even with advanced sonar and underwater drones, (as are being used in the current search) these trees limit and slow underwater electronic scanning because of the extreme risk of entanglement. In many, many places in Smith Lake the visibility is very low. Thankfully that is not the case in Rock Creek and the visibility is actually pretty good.

With that said, one may ask “Why aren’t they diving all day and night – and as many at a time as are willing to help?” Well, it is a bit more complicated than that and not to get “too technical” but, here are some diving facts: 

   The dive team most always keep safety as the of diver as the #1 priority.   

   A diver is limited to how deep they can dive and how long they can stay down for. 

   The deeper the dive, the less time they have to search. 

   While the water temperature on the surface may feel like “bathtub” water, as the dive
descends, they pass through thermoclines and the water goes to cool, to cold, to freezing cold.

In addition to the bullets above, the dive team must always weigh risk vs. reward when assessing each and every dive. The team needs to see something on the sonar to dive for as it not safe to simply put the divers in deep underwater trees. Diving is truly a team effort. 

Every effort is being made to bring closure to these families and in particular this search.  There are many moving pieces working in the Rock Creek area. We are thankful and commend the divers and searchers whom many are volunteers. Starting at daylight theses individuals gear up and prepare for their mission. Dive teams from Tennessee and Illinois are volunteering their time and expertise on our great lake.  The deputies, volunteers and public safety divers are working hard to provide additional answers to these tragic events. Let’s make sure we do our part to ensure their safety and send well wishes and positive thoughts to ALL the families and friends affected last week, along with the team on the water now. 

How can you help?

Multiple families and a plethora of friends are devastated from the tragedies last week.  If you are on Smith Lake, avoid Rock Creek if possible.  If you must travel this area pay attention to the dive flags and stay as far away as possible from the dive team; keep your wake to an absolute minimum. Be mindful one persons loved one is searching for someone else's loved one.  Whether it’s prayers, thoughts or simply some good vibes please keep’em coming! 

Smith Lake Favorites

Recipe: The Alabama Stacker