Volunteer dive team crucial to victims of Canyon Lake

San Marcos Area Recovery Team relied on to find downing victims


CANYON LAKE, Texas – The choppy waters of Canyon Lake can be fun, but, like many Texas lakes, it can also claim a victim without warning.

"Some years, every week. Some years, once a month," said Don White, a diver for the San Marcos Area Recovery Team.

White has dived the waters of Canyon Lake and other area lakes for 17 years. During that time, he has had the grim task of recovering bodies as part of the recovery team.

The SMART team was formed in 1988 after a drowning in the lake. The group, made up purely of volunteers with other full-time jobs, has one goal in mind: helping victim's families.

"I enjoy the conclusion of the search, when we can give closure to a family," said White.

Most of the team has EMS or firefighting backgrounds and all are certified divers. Their job includes wearing some 80 pounds of equipment and searching Canyon Lake's deep, tree-lined river bed. Deep dives often mean plenty of hazards.

"It can be a very difficult search at times," said diver Matt Simkin.

So how why is it that Canyon Lake claims so many victims?

"The problem that people don't realize is if you're not a strong swimmer, there are a lot of very steep drop-offs in the lake," said Simkin.

Simkin said alcohol is commonly a factor too.

The recovery team functions as a nonprofit, meaning they survive solely on donations and the group is hoping to buy equipment to better search the lake.

"Right now our main goal is to buy a side-scan sonar, that we can use to help locate victims," said Simkin.

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