Update: Fri Dec-28 2143 hrs
The USBL calibrations are completed. The Persistence just reached the dock to spend the night and take on fresh water. The ROV test dive will proceed first thing in the morning. If successful, the first dive on a sonar target will follow. It will be difficult getting sleep tonight. Months of planning for some, years of planning for a few have all come down to the next couple days. Although unspoken, the stress is intense. We all seem to cope in our own ways. What stays on the surface is unwavering professionalism and focus. Inside, we all hope and pray tomorrow goes perfectly.
Fri Dec-28 1200 hrs
Last night, most of the crew and search team took a break and had dinner on the island. As much as we love the Persistence, it was a needed separation both of work and surroundings. For most of us, it was the first time off the Persistence in over a week.
Today, the trade winds are steady and strong. Wind surfers and parasails dot the beach as the Persistence completes the primary grid of sonar lines. To clarify, there is more planned grid remaining to be surveyed but the priority area is essentially complete. Within minutes, we will perform a calibration routine for the USBL acoustic tracking system. When successful, the ROV team will bring out the ROV and perform a test dive. The dive ensures the Persistence can maintain position over a fixed point (in 35+kt winds, 3-5ft swells, and strong cross currents) while the ROV safely navigates to a known point and can adequately maneuver in close proximity to the seafloor. For once, the pressure is off the sonar operators as they breath a major sigh of relief. All eyes will now turn toward the ROV pilot and boat captain as they perform this difficult dance among men and machine.
Thurs 26-Dec 1230 hrs
Murphy's Law always applies offshore. After acquiring data all day in sustained 35kt winds and strong cross currents, the night was going rather smooth. In about 450 ft of water and towing 20 ft off the bottom, the magnetometer started to tow differently. The operator (Kent) immediately recognized we had a snag. We brought in the towfish to find a mass of derelict fishing gear snagged on the acoustic beacon. The beacon was fastened to the tow cable above the magnetometer only by two small stainless steel hose clamps. Despite the massive strain on the beacon, it survived without any damage.
Tues 25-Dec 1400 hrs
From Tim Miller (TES):
I want to personally thank the entire crew of the Persistence for their dedication and sacrifice they have given for the search for Natalee Holloway. Let us keep Dave, Beth, and all who knew and loved Natalee in our thoughts and prayers.
Every day I believe we are more and more optimistic that we will bring Natalee home to Alabama. We have just finished Christmas dinner on the boat and it's now time to go back to work -God be with us in our efforts.
Laura...I Love and miss you. Your death wasn't in vain.
Merry Christmas to All,
Tues 25-Dec 0140 hrs
To the family and loved ones of the search team and crew of the Persistence:
Words can not express our longing to be with our families over Christmas and the void we all feel. The contact we receive from loved ones through phone calls and emails does provide a diminutive sense of normalcy and solace. We take comfort in knowing life goes on back home in our absence and that this project will eventually come to an end, returning us safely to our families. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continuous prayers, love, and support throughout this project. Loved ones are always on our minds which helps us maintain an unwavering focus and determination to complete this project with success, knowing that in success we shall return.
From the search team and crew of the Persistence to all:
Thank you dearly for your love, support, and prayers both for the search effort and the Holloway family. We hope that during this Christmas season you will stand witness and understand the true Christmas story which has been told and retold in varies forms throughout history. True love never fails and gracefully proves itself strong through sacrifice. We consider ourselves honored to use our God-given gifts and resources to this cause. From all of us, have a wonderful, safe, and merry Christmas.
The search is amidst perhaps the most difficult phase. The excitement and energy of the beginning has waned, yet the end is still on the horizon. We will persevere and give this wonderful vessel reason for it's namesake.
R/V Persistence - 25-Dec- 1225 hrs Christmas Morning (photo by Tony Fontenot)
Mon 24-Dec- 1452 hrs
After reaching the dock at 0600 hrs, the Persistence rests as her crew perform some routine maintenance and make a supply run. There is no obvious outward adornment that it is Christmas Eve, save a single strand of colored lights hung around the galley ceiling. Inwardly, everyone is filled with the true Christmas spirit. Almost routine now, the gear is in the water scanning away. Inch by inch, mile by mile we are progressing nicely.
Mon 24-Dec- 0045 hrs
The side scan sonar and magnetometer search quietly continues on through the night. Rain begins to fall on the Persistence.
Sun 23-Dec- 1452 hrs
Agitated by stiff trade winds, white caps blur the boundary between sea and sky today. Below the daily skirmish over wind and water's supremacy of the horizon, the search quietly continues in the crushing Aruban depths. Yesterday, we devoted some time testing the magnetometer and side scan sonar sensors over local construction materials likely used in constructing a wire trap. This test provided valuable information, both confirming that the construction materials alone can be detected and what kind of signatures to expect from the materials when on the seabed. In light of the test, we have renewed focus and zeal on our goal, to find Natalee Holloway.
Sun. 23-Dec -0130 hrs
The seas are calm and the moon is brilliant on the last survey line of the night. Murphy's Law always applies offshore. Midway through the survey line, the boat suddenly veers off course to avoid a small ~16ft wooden fishing boat anchored near the line. We hold our breath and bring in the sonar and magnetometer as fast as the winches allow. On the telemetry screens, both sensors suddenly go crazy. We caught the anchor line of the fishing boat with the sonar and magnetometer. The Persistence immediately comes all-stop as we cautiously bring in the gear. Fortunately for us and the fishermen, our reaction time was swift. We didn't give the fishermen much of a ride and no one was hurt. After a careful inspection, we determined that miraculously none of the gear was even slightly damaged in the collision. After the encounter was over, we thanked the fishermen for their patience and the small wooden fishing boat and Persistence went their separate ways into the moonlit night.
Sat. 22-Dec - 2035 hrs
The seas calmed throughout the evening. The progress we're making is satisfying. Once again, we will work through the night. At night, the seas tend to be calmer and it's easier to focus on the work without being able to see the beach. The sunset was beautiful this evening. ROV pilot Brandon Hernandez hurried out to the back deck of the Persistence to take the photo for the blog. At the same instance he snapped the picture, a swell washed across the back deck, soaking him half way up his shins. Brandon, now the world will know you by this noble photographic cause.
We came across another unknown wreck today, an approximately 50ft long catamaran. When a wreck is discovered or rediscovered, it is easy to get excited and often celebrate it's finding with a cheer. However, we must remind ourselves that all wrecks have stories and these stories are attached to lives and often lost lives. The ocean is terrific at keeping the especially solemn stories for itself. Only after great effort is the ocean willing to reveal it's deepest secrets.
Sat. 22-Dec- 1110 hrs
The Persistence awakes after a few hour much-deserved nap. The crew diligently toss the lines and she's free of the dock. Leaving the port facility, the seas are calm and the trade winds are pleasant and tropical. The occasional cumulus cloud appear cartoon-like. One small cloud in the distance is dumping rain on a few unfortunate people. I can just imagine what they're thinking.. "why me". The rain has a tendency of seeking us all out. Today over the Persistence, the sun is shining bright.
"We've gridded a 22 sq. mile area with bathymetry and will cover it again with this sonar system and magnetometer... Yes. We will find her if she's out there." -John Silvetti (1102 hrs, 22-Dec).
The search area we already covered by bathymetry and began surveying with side scan and magnetometer is the size of Manhattan.
"I believe she's been out here for over the last two years but we didn't have the resources and technology to find her until now. We're blessed to have these resources. Now, hopefully we'll have a wonderful Christmas present for Dave and Beth". - Tim Miller (1108 hrs, 22-Dec).
Fri. 21-Dec - 0350 hrs
The sonar search is progressing forward very well, ranging in water depths from shallow to around 900 ft. The data quality is terrific. The seafloor morphology although complicated, is much more accommodating than expected. Once the sonar search is completed, the ROV dives will commence.
Thurs. 20-Dec - 1310 hrs
The search team deploy a Marine Magnetics SeaSpy 'Overhauser' magnetometer to aid in the search. The magnetometer will tow behind the boat approximately 20ft off bottom and detect iron-bearing debris or targets. The mag will be used in conjunction with the side scan sonar.
Thurs. 20-Dec -0430 hrs
The Persistence has completed the first day of the side scan sonar search. The search team is very optimistic about the probability of finding Natalee Holloway. The data quality is excellent and the conditions are sufficient to carry out the detailed search.
The first sonar line is generally the most stressful part of the survey. Since the sonar is towed, it is very easy to collide the towfish with an unknown wreck or obstruction. We chose a starting point free of charted obstructions or known wrecks. Once the crew was ready, the side scan sonar was deployed before we reached the search area to provide a long approach to the first line.
Murphy's Law always applies when working offshore. Minutes after deploying the towfish and without warning, an uncharted shipwreck suddenly appears on the sonar screen. Immediately recognizing the danger, I pull in cable as fast as I could to make the side scan climb high in the water column. It's a near-miss. We missed hitting the wreck by just a few feet. After the adrenaline died down, we came around for another pass to better image the wreck. The image below is a snap-shot of the second pass on the approximately 150ft-long unknown wooden wreck.
To illustrate the quality of the sonar system, the following image is a side scan sonar image of an anchor and chain found during this search (Dec-21, 0130 hrs). Notice the links are clearly imaged.The Holloway family expressed their deepest appreciation to the search effort, TES, and to all who are behind the scenes praying and helping support this project.
If this project has touched your heart and you would like to help in future missing persons projects, please learn more about Texas EquuSearch. It is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization with over 350 members. They are a highly professional, compassionate, and dedicated group of people who have a passion for finding lost persons.
TES and Tim Miller has been directly involved in over 800 investigations with around 260 persons returned to their families alive!
If you would like to make a donation to help find missing persons: http://www.texasequusearch.org/donate.html