The body of a New Jersey man who went missing in California’s Lake Tahoe was recovered from 1,565 feet underwater- the deepest known recovery in U.S. history, authorities said.
Ryan Normolye, 29, was on a three-week California vacation when unexpected tragedy struck. Normolye was alone on a boat in Lake Tahoe and had recorded himself jumping off the boat, unaware that the boat was left in gear. Normoyle was apparently unable to swim fast enough to catch up with the vessel and drowned, according to the South Lake Tahoe police.
The search for the Closter resident, described by his family as a “very loving and generous man with every step he took in life and a person who touched many lives,” began on Aug. 10 after the boat he had rented washed ashore in Glenbrook, Nevada without him in it, KRCA-TV reported.
GPS data collected from Normolye’s cell phone provided search crews with possible locations of Normolye’s body, but search efforts were unsuccessful, officials said.
On Sept. 24, a new search began after Normoyle’s family recruited Bruce’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization that specializes in underwater body recoveries. The operation that included the South Lake Tahoe police department, the leading agency in the investigation, several marine units, an unmanned submarine, first responders from Tahoe’s police and fire departments, the Douglas County Sheriff’s and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Normolye's body was found, nearly six weeks after his disappearance.
Keith Cormican, the founder of Bruce’s Legacy and who brought Normoyle home, spoke to Inside Edition Digital from his home in Wisconsin. He described the four-day harrowing search as laborious and physically demanding, and at times touch and go. He and his team endured several obstacles, including unpredictable weather, three foot waves, a broken cable, electrical problems with the ROV, the ocean’s depth and a deadline that he needed to meet. The recovery effort that started on Thursday had to be completed by Sunday, whether a body was found or not, he said.
For this particular recovery, Cormican explained that he had a crew of five on the boat and each had a role. He operated the ROV. The boat operator places the boat in the exact spot and tries to hold them there, he explained, a task he said isn’t easy. He said two to three other crewmembers lower the cable down into the water to get to the bottom, and then they have to pull up the cable that is extremely arduous. It was like pulling an anchor weighing 300 pounds 1,500 feet to the surface.
“On Friday, we were able to locate Ryan, but we couldn’t get him up; everything was too heavy. We would get him up off the bottom a little and then he’d slip away,” he said. “I lost track of all the times we had hold of him and tried to bring him up, maybe a dozen. He was finally on the ground on Sunday afternoon.”
Though the work is stressful, knowing he is able to provide closure to a grieving family is extremely gratifying, and praised all the volunteers for their time and dedication. “There is no way the recovery could have been pulled off without all the help and cooperation that we had were on Lake Tahoe this week. It takes special people to do this work and we had many stepping up to get Ryan back home.”
Cormican said this was the deepest recovery effort in the U.S. and Canada that he was aware of, and said the sheer magnitude was unlike anything he’s experienced. "There were a lot of people to pull this one off,” he said. “The amount of pressure that 1,500 feet is beyond belief and the pressure it puts on all the components on the equipment is pretty phenomenal.”
Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S. and fourth deepest in North America, with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet. The second deepest recovery also took place in Lake Tahoe on Sept. 17, 2018, when the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office marine unit recovered a body from 1,062 feet below, USA Today reported.
Cormican started the non-profit organization on behalf of his brother, a firefighter named Bruce Cormican, who drowned during a dangerous rescue in 1995. He recognized the lack of training firefighters and police had in turbulent waters and started a public safety diving training program so others would not have to deal with the pain of losing a loved one and experience the suffering his family had to endure.
“I started this in my brother’s memory,” said Cormican, who said he started the organization in 2013 once he was able to pay for the equipment needed, which he explained, can be very costly. “Some people go missing for an extended period of time or go missing forever and I found that there is no sonar equipment out there which makes it much easier. "
Cormican said when he heard about a drowning, he would travel and go and do what he could and that is how he got started. He said in 2018 he traveled as far as Nepal to recover a drowning victim. And, explained that most of the drowning victims he does recover are the ones people normally have given up on and couldn’t find.
“Ryan is number 32 that we have located,” he said.
“It is very rewarding to be able to help these families at the worst times of their lives. To come in after everyone else has been unsuccessful. I do that a lot and it is very rewarding being able to have the gift to be able to help these people.”
During this ordeal, a fundraiser was created to help pay for Normoyle's mother, brother and sister to go to Lake Tahoe.
Normoyle’s mother expressed in a Facebook post the despair she was feeling but also how grateful she was for the love and condolences her family has received. She also thanked Cormican and Bruce’s Legacy for the miraculous recovery of bringing her son home and urged people to donate to the non-profit.
“I will also never be able to properly thank enough Keith Cormican, founder of Bruce's Legacy, for spearheading Ryan's eventual recovery team, and especially for 'liking a challenge.' Against crazy odds he and a crew, too many to name here, but no less critical, brought Ryan up from a depth never done before. I urge you to read Keith's account on Bruce's Legacy and see the full list of the agencies, volunteers, and friends that pooled their talents, muscle and sweat to get it done, nothing short of a miracle,” she said.
“This man is the salt of the earth, and doing God's work for the highest and purest of reasons," she continued. "I urge anyone who can, to please contribute to Bruce's Legacy, a 501c3 non-profit. Read the stories of the searches and recoveries he has done. This is such a worthy cause, and now and forever a cause close to my heart. The relief and comfort we've gotten is priceless.”