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Removing Vehicles From River Could Take Highway Patrol Months

After two days, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Marine Enforcement Division pulled the first of 18 or 19 vehicles from waters of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System.

And that may have been one of the easier ones to recover.

The red 2000 Chevy Z71 pickup truck was reported stolen to Broken Arrow Police in September 2006. Troopers began working on the truck yesterday, but they weren't able to use airbags to lift the truck so a tow truck to hook onto it until today.

It was more than an hour from when the first tow truck was connected to the pickup with metal cables to when a bigger tow truck dragged the upside-down vehicle out of the water and up the 33 Landing launch ramp.

Divers are contending with debris, poor visibility and the cold. And there's no telling what condition a vehicle was in when it went into the Verdigris River or how much damage the river has done to it since.

That sort of effort is why OHP Captain George Brown says it will take the marine division "weeks or months" to recover all the vehicles it has identified.

"It may get to a point where we're forced to use a Corps of Engineers barge and a lift crane to get over the dump site and pull straight up on the vehicles," Brown said.

OHP has jurisdiction over the waterway, so it's the agency's responsibility to find and recover the vehicles. Troopers use new technology, like a side-scan sonar, to locate them.

Divers then tag target vehicles with buoys until they can be dragged out.

While the red Chevy was stolen, Brown said he can only speculate on why the rest of the vehicles are down there.

"We can identify pickup trucks versus cars or SUVs with the side-scan sonar, but we'll have to hook up to them and actually bring them to the surface to actually see what we have," he said.

Once OHP can find a VIN number or other identifier, the agency can figure out where the vehicle needs to go.