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Column: Dive team finds engagement band

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The invitation list for the Sept. 13 wedding of Federica Lyford-Pike and Gates Roll had some late additions — the Bartholomew County Water Rescue and Recovery team.

The 27 members of the underwater dive squad composed of Bartholomew County and Columbus police and volunteers from local fire departments are not exactly close friends of the couple. In fact, most of them have never met the bride-to-be or her intended.

They did, however, play an important role in the planning for their wedding in South Carolina.

They made it possible for Federica, a former Columbus resident, to walk down the aisle wearing the engagement ring Gates had presented her months earlier.

The divers had to sift through several inches of silt under several feet of water near a dock at Harrison Lake, where she had dropped it during a Fourth of July outing with family.

It was a wet version of finding a needle in the haystack.

“Simply unbelievable,” said Pilar Lyford-Pike, mother of the bride-to-be. “My daughter was so delighted that she did a happy dance and put it on video.”

Federica got an added bonus from the efforts of the dive team. A week before they found a bracelet she had lost three years earlier near the same location.

There were a number of rewards for the dive team in addition to the wedding invitations.

“This was invaluable experience for our people,” said Maj. Gary Myers of the sheriff’s department. “We often have been called on to look underwater for much larger items, but this demonstrates our ability to find smaller ones. Our recovery mission also includes looking for evidence and property that may have been discarded in water.

“I’d have to say that this was the smallest thing we have been charged with finding, and the methods we used here can apply to other searches in the future.”

Then there was an unexpected but very welcome incentive — the meals Pilar served to the searchers during their work.

“We jokingly debated whether to delay telling Pilar that we had found the ring so that we could have another one of her meals,” Gary said. “We told her anyway, and the expression on her face was ample reward.”

The involvement of the rescue and recovery team was the result of a circuitous process that began July 4 with the realization that Federica’s ring had fallen into the water.

Friends and family members teamed up for their own search, even hauling pails of silt out of the area and going through each one with bare hands. Their search, which extended into the next day, produced a lot of grimy silt but no ring.

The couple next contacted a professional treasure hunter from Louisville, Kentucky, but that proved to be a short-lived effort because he did not have the necessary equipment for the search.

Interestingly, the involvement of the search and rescue team came about because Pilar’s husband, Edward, and a co-worker, Juan Acosta, happened to run into each other during an unusual Saturday at work at Cummins Inc.

“Juan contacted the volunteer divers at Cummins, and they suggested we get in touch with the police department’s dive team,” Pilar said. “I knew (former Columbus Police Chief) Jason Maddix, and he agreed to pursue the matter.”

The request was forwarded to the new police chief, Jon Rohde, who turned it over to Gary Myers, wondering if the team would consider the request as a training mission. Gary responded that it was a marvelous opportunity for training that could, if successful, have the added benefit of returning an important item to a bride-to-be.

The first search was conducted July 30, but despite meticulous planning it did not result in the discovery of the ring. It did, however, produce a surprising find, a bracelet.

“When they showed it to me, it came as a surprise,” Pilar said. “I remembered that Federica had lost a bracelet some time ago, but I didn’t recall all the details. When I called to tell her about the find, she said that it had been lost in 2011, and that it was a gift from Gates to mark the six-month anniversary of the beginning of their relationship.”

Despite the discovery of the bracelet, Gary and the dive team had doubts about finding the ring.

They returned Aug. 6, in part because they needed a certain number of training hours to meet their quota for the month.

Using a metal detector and following a predetermined grid pattern, member Dave Steinkoenig took notice when the $49 detector vibrated in his hand. He pulled up a handful of silt, and nestled in his palm was the ring.

“That find made our confidence level jump,” Gary said after the mission was completed. “To be honest, I really didn’t think our prospects of finding it were very good.”

Federica and Gates received the ring by mail last week.

It’s a good bet that it will be a permanent feature on her finger, except on those occasions when she goes swimming — anywhere.

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