Correction to This Article
The article referred to a scuba-diving apparatus as an oxygen tank. The correct term is compressed-air tank.

Police Officer Disappears in Diving Exercise

Boats search Pohick Bay for the police officer. Helicopters and craft from 10 neighboring jurisdictions assisted Fairfax County's efforts to locate him.
Boats search Pohick Bay for the police officer. Helicopters and craft from 10 neighboring jurisdictions assisted Fairfax County's efforts to locate him. (Photos By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo
By Tom Jackman and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A 42-year-old Fairfax County police officer disappeared during a diving exercise in Pohick Bay yesterday afternoon, and an intensive search of the waters near the Mason Neck area has not located him.

Police did not release the officer's name but said he is a male. About 15 people were involved in the training exercise, including members of the police dive team and helicopter and marine patrol units as well as several Fairfax firefighters, said Fairfax Officer Don Gotthardt, a police spokesman.

The exercise began about 1:30 p.m., Gotthardt said, and the officer was reported missing about 2:45 p.m.

Boats and helicopters from 10 neighboring jurisdictions swooped in to scour Pohick Bay in southeastern Fairfax, which is bordered by Mason Neck on the south and Fort Belvoir on the north.

Fairfax Officer Tawny Wright said the officer was wearing a dry suit rather than a wet suit; a dry suit is used in cold water and might enable the missing officer to survive longer in the wind-swept waters. He was not wearing an oxygen tank or a diving apparatus.

"His role in the training did not require diving equipment," Wright said. Police later said the officer was not a member of the dive team, but was serving as a role-player in the exercise.

Wright said the training exercise involved a helicopter, but she did not have further details.

More than 10 inflatable and flat-bottom boats searched Pohick Bay into the darkness as helicopters circled. The bay is the western branch of Gunston Cove, which opens into the Potomac River.

"Every jurisdiction that has a boat is here," said Lt. Raul Castillo of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

Some of the search boats were equipped with sonar, and helicopters used infrared cameras, which can sense heat sources even in darkness.

Police asked property owners along the bay to help with the search, and they said residents had responded by going out on their piers to see whether they could spot anything.

At the Pohick Bay Marina, ambulances and other rescue vehicles idled, waiting for a call.

As nightfall arrived, seven boats with flashing lights patrolled an area at least two miles wide that extended beyond Gunston Cove to the coast of Charles County in Maryland. Police said they were expanding their search into the Potomac, in case the current had pulled the officer out of the bay.

The bay is bordered on the south by Pohick Bay Regional Park, part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The park, about 25 miles south of Washington, calls itself one of only three Northern Virginia access points to the Potomac.

Pohick Bay is less than a mile wide at its widest point, where it flows into Gunston Cove. But the cove, as it enters the Potomac, is about 1 1/2 miles wide.

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