MINNEAPOLIS - On Tuesday, first responders from several local, state and federal agencies gathered along the Mississippi River to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the 35W Bridge collapse nearly 10 years ago.
For two Navy Divers, the visit brought back vivid memories.
"I literally think about it most times when I drive over a bridge,” said Chief Navy Diver Noah Gottesman, who had returned to Minneapolis for the first time since the tragedy. "It seems unreal."
Gottesman was among more than a dozen Navy divers sent to the bridge wreckage in the days after the collapse. They were tasked with trying to locate 8 of the 13 people who died.
"The actual job of collecting deceased remains is a delicate task,” Gottesman said.
"Mentally it does affect you,” said Petty Officer First Class Brian Bennett, another Navy Diver who responded. “You can't avoid it. You can only live with it."
Bennett says just a day after getting the call in Virginia, they were in the water navigating the top of the wreckage to come up with a plan. Then, for the next ten days, two teams of divers suited up around the clock in rotating 12-hour shifts.
Working in darkness didn’t matter much due to the murky conditions.
"Heavy mud, visibility three to six inches at the most,” Gottesman said. “You're going 20 feet to 30 feet into a tunnel of wreckage.”
"Broken steel, rebar, crushed up concrete, you didn't know how solid any structure was under water,” Bennett said. “So there was a chance that something could move and you could become trapped, or pinned yourself."
Bennett himself was treated for a cut through his hand, others suffered gasoline and chemical burns but, with the help of heavy equipment operators, they returned everyone's remains.
"I feel honored to have taken part in it,” Gottesman said.
On Tuesday, they again were honored, dropping a wreath in the water to remember the individuals they worked so hard to bring home.
"I'm just grateful being able to be the person that helped them get some sort of closure,” Bennett said.
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