I recently had the privilege of attending a luncheon to celebrate the retirement of Sergeant Francis Mitchum, a thirty-nine year veteran of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Sergeant Mitchum was the last of the founding members of the DNR Law Enforcement Division's AIR Team (Aquatic Investigations and Recovery) to retire.
When the dive team was established in 1977, its primary mission was to search for and recover victims of swimming and boating accidents. This new method of using trained divers to recover drowning victims was a dramatic departure from the old method of "dragging" waterways with grappling hooks and provided for a quicker recovery, so that family members could have resolution and the agency would have a more efficient way of completing this task. During the past thirty years that this special team has been working for you, hundreds of families have been touched by their service.
The men and women who make up the AIR team are a highly trained and dedicated group of professionals. These law enforcement officers work every day enforcing our game, fish and boating laws, then come together as a team when called to serve the public as divers. Many times, I have seen them dive where no one else would and stay longer than anyone would expect — "just one more dive, sir" — so that a mission could be completed successfully. Over the years, they have trained hundreds of divers for rescue squads and other law enforcement agencies. They dive not only to recover drowning victims, but also to assist SLED or other law enforcement agencies with searches for murder weapons and evidence of crimes, or to support the boating public in other ways. They have cleared a stump-free five mile channel in Lake Marion using underwater saws so that boaters can traverse the lake safely. They have found and recovered boats, cars and even planes that went down in the water. They once even used their underwater search patterns to look for a murder weapon on dry land. I have been present when they have celebrated the success of a mission accomplished and also when they cried with family members over their loss, then put their uniforms back on to serve the sportsmen and women of this state. The retirement celebration brought back many memories as stories were told and a successful career was acknowledged. So to the men and women of the AIR team and also to DNR Sergeant Francis Mitchum — Job Well Done!
— Alvin Taylor, Director
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources