Virginia Marine Police diver describes what it’s like to recover body of missing swimmer

Posted at 5:38 PM, Aug 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-25 17:38:02-04

Imagine total darkness. You’re alone in an alien-underwater world, crawling, feeling blindly for a body. It's the stuff nightmares are made of.

Steve York is a diver for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. He helps recover the bodies of missing swimmers and boaters.

“I think all officers have bad dreams, but it's just a part of it,” he says. “You know, some of the sights we see, they're horrible sights.”

It's a job not many can stomach.

“It`s kind of surreal,” York says. “It`s unnatural.”

For York, this summer has unfortunately been busy.

In June, 45-year-old James Wofford lost his life while wading near the West Norfolk Bridge with his four-year-old son. Then earlier this month, an 8-year-old boy drowned off of Cape Charles. Most recently, two Newport News men went missing in the Deep Creek.

In each case, divers and search crews brought up the bodies.

“Just do what you're trained to do, bring them up and you think about everything else later on,” York says.

What he tries not to think about is what lies beneath.

“You're looking at the person, and you're like is this really real,” he says. “It`s total darkness. You can`t see anything. You're feeling and everything feels differently and then when I got up to the person`s head, I was like ok this is a human being.”

When he's not underwater during a search, York is on shore with the families. He's there at their darkest time, and in most cases the first person they have to turn to.

“You can see it in their eyes and when you finally tell them, the tears and especially the mother- the wailing that she did,” he recalls. “I'll never forget that. It almost tears your heart out.”

As difficult as the mission is, York knows that someone has to help these families find closure.

“That would be the worst thing to have something happen to a loved one and you never know what happened to them,” he says. “What I have in my mind is we are giving these people back to their families."