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Reasons for dive team concern still unclear after July 1 crash

(July 26, 2013) Questions and oblique criticism still abound, through multiple media, around the decision by the Ocean City Fire Department to not send its dive team to assist in the recovery operation for the ocean plane crash earlier this month.

But as far as the city is concerned, the issue is officially at rest.

“The after-action meeting was held and concluded,” City Manager David Recor said. “There is no further inquiry, as far as I’m concerned.”

City documents, obtained by this newspaper, provide a detailed rundown of the events and the judgment surrounding them.

However, how this information is being publicized internally is still up in the air.

“I know discussions were had, but we have not been advised of the result of those discussions,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

The issue centers on the July 1 crash of an aircraft, owned and piloted by Ocean City Police Department officer Tom Geoghegan, a short distance off the beach in North Ocean City.

The wreck claimed Geoghegan’s life, as well as the life of his passenger and fellow OCPD officer Josh Adickes.

In the initial response, the OCFD stationed a paramedic crew with a diver at 130th Street. Another crew and diver were aboard the Coast Guard vessel that initially responded to the area of the crash. However, the exact location of the plane was unknown and no survivors or evidence of them was apparent.

Jurisdiction was assumed by the Maryland State Police. According to an internal OCFD memo, written by senior members of the dive team, the MSP sergeant in charge initially said he could use up to four members of the OCFD’s dive team to assist the operation.

As the team was being assembled, however, a call from OCFD Chief Chris Larmore advised that the team was not needed. The plane had been down for over an hour.

“[MSP] Sgt. Williams advised Chief Larmore there were sufficient divers from the MSP dive team, and the OCFD dive team was no longer needed for the operation,” the memo reads.

“The dive team administration understands the reason for the cancellation on July 01, 2013,” the memo concludes. “The OCFD dive team has a plan in place for all future dive team operations. We will make every effort to limit any future miscommunications.”

Larmore’s reasoning for not committing the team is further explained in the minutes of a staff meeting from July 11, which was widely circulated amongst city staff.

“The Fire Department never called off a rescue operation,” Larmore is quoted as saying therein. “My message to Chief Barton was that if we were needed, be cautious about taking additional paramedic units out of service, as we were down from six to four units already on a busy Sunday with high rip currents.”

The OCFD was down one unit due to a sick paramedic whose shift could not be filled, and another unit that was transporting a patient to the hospital.

“Sgt. Williams of the MD State Police dive team said he did not need our personnel,” the minutes read. “[The] town dive team is rescue based; equipment is rescue based. MD state team is recovery based, which is longer and more methodical in nature, but at no time would we ever deny assistance to our police or any outside organization if we are needed in any capacity.”

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