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Two unsung heroes of the ValuJet search resume their routines

June 20, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent John Zarrella

MIAMI (CNN) -- For every victim of the ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, there was also a hero who was for the most part unnoticed, unsung.

airboat

Mitch Bridges is one. He can tell you that there is only one Florida Everglades in all the world. Bridges knows its twists and turns, its shallows and cypress stands perhaps better than anyone -- he even knows where the big bass hunker down.

Bridges is an average guy with a typical Florida job in the tourism industry. He runs Holiday Park, a spot on the edge of the Everglades where tourists come for airboat rides and guided fishing trips. On May 11, Bridges tore through the sawgrass looking for something else -- an airplane. (53K AIFF or WAV sound)

His knowledge of these prehistoric backwaters led search and rescue teams to the crash site. Day after day, he ferried teams to the crater in the swamp. And he worked side by side with the divers for hours.

He backed up Paul Toy, the Metro-Dade police diver who was called upon to probe the impact crater. "What Paul Toy didn't know, I was standing on the back of the airboat. If anything would have happened, I would have been the first one in. I could have been to him within seconds," Bridges said.

diver

Toy says that nearly every piece of recovered wreckage was found not by sophisticated equipment but by human hands. "Just by feel and touch ... we call it diving by Braille, but it's just by touch," he said.

These days, Toy is doing more routine work , such as diving in canals looking for stolen cars.

He tries not to reflect much on the crash. What Toy came away with is a bitter realization of the fragility of machines and human life. "It boggles the human mind to see something like this," he said.

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