The Time I Built an ROV to Solve Missing Person Cases
June 10, 2024 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by the search for the Death Valley Germans (mefi previously), Antti Suanto and his brother decided to build themselves a remote-controlled sidescan sonar boat, and an underwater ROV, and attempt to solve two long-cold missing person cases in the waters of northern Finland.
posted by automatronic (22 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

hey, first link requires a sign-in, otherwise is not accessible - for me, at least. using Firefox browser. other links work.
posted by lapolla at 6:25 PM on June 10

Wow, this is really impressive! Also the part where they tried to get the authorities to listen to them was way harder then it needed to be, glad they stuck it out.
posted by lepus at 7:13 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

One might worry the signal to noise ratio among random phone calls claiming to have solved cold cases is pretty low; nice to see the system could move as rapidly as it turned out to, and with alacrity the second time around. The recovery efforts gone to for the second car alone seem staggering.
posted by Earthtopus at 8:44 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

It’s kind of crazy because yes, they built all this specialized tech - but in the end it was purely logic that led them to find the cars. The tech just proved the hypotheses. It’s kind of alarming that nobody else ever thought of checking these nearby bodies of waters in searches that lasted decades.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:53 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

Yeah it seems like "check the lakes" should be the first go to when you have lots of them next to roads. I liked the but where they used magnets to confirm.
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Finland is like 10% lake by surface area, and, as seen in the second case, cars can get *way further out from the shore* (slowly sliding down a steep lakebed) than the parameters of reasonable search efforts can account for, even if you did know in advance the car had gone into a specific lake off a specific private road (boat launch?) instead of simply being driven out of jurisdiction.
posted by Earthtopus at 9:01 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

this was such a great read! impressive efforts.
posted by tamarack at 10:00 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

"I had gotten in too deep. My life was spiraling out of control. My grip on reality, tenuous at the best of times, was slipping, centimeter by centimeter."

<picture of clean, modern office space in mild disarray with two (2) half-empty water bottles>

"Time was running out, and I was up against it. With only my 4 weeks of annual holiday leave to spare, and the assistance of my brother who is up for pretty much anything apparently, I pointed my car toward the remote north, bound for the most isolated reaches of the country. There was traffic all the way there, let me tell you."
posted by logicpunk at 12:55 AM on June 11 [9 favorites]

This was a fantastic read. I think about the Death Valley Germans often, and coincidentally was even talking to friends about them at the weekend.
posted by terretu at 1:22 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Man, clearly there's a lot of effort involved in learning to intepret the side scan sonar because I kept looking at the photos where the caption says "see this feature lower left" or whatever and I just see nothing.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:13 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

As a finnish guy let me just point out this is case happend nowhere near northern Finland. It took place about 300km south from where I live, and even my hoods aren't yet northern Finland although of course the latte-swilling southeners think so, not to people mention everywhere else in the world. To us locals northern Finland starts somewhere between Oulu (where I live) and Kemi (where I was born). Northern Finland isn't the same as Lapland. Lappi really starts somewhere north of the arctic circle. Just a quick point.
posted by fridgebuzz at 7:17 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]

Okay, this is some high-quality "nerds gotta nerd" activity, here. Good on them for helping resolve things for folks.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:45 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I’m about half way through and enjoying this immensely but I just came across this:

“I also had my personal stuff for the four week vacation.”

and had to sigh deeply.
posted by bq at 7:55 AM on June 11 [6 favorites]

Good lord, that lake salvage operations
posted by Jacen at 10:31 AM on June 11

sigh deeply

Don't sigh, organize.

(It wasn't a great idea of mine to read the Death Valley Germans saga late last night, though. Fuck that author entirely for dismissing his life-threatening thyroid condition as a "chick" thing.)
posted by scruss at 10:52 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]

I’ve finally finished the whole thing, and it was fascinating. Thank you for sharing.
posted by bq at 3:54 PM on June 11

This was amazing. Really old school best of the web type stuff. Thanks so much for posting it!

I'm teaching freshwater ecology in the fall, and lakes are definitely my most boring module just because they're not really my research area. Now I want to get my students to build drones
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Such an engaging read: curious and nerdy while still being sensitive about the ultimate subject matter. I read through this last night, then came back and read it again tonight.

Thanks for posting this; truly the best of the web.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 9:54 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

That was great, thanks.

When the police detectives arrived... "They asked a couple of questions which were probably used to check what kind of lunatics we were". Yeah I'll bet!
posted by hovey at 12:47 PM on June 12

Great read! As other people said, I'm surprised that checking bodies of water isn't an immediate thing when people and cars go missing. I remember a Cold Case file (or one of those Northern Law shows) where they decided to check a lake after a guy went missing in the early 1980s, after being at a bar with his friends. He and his truck disappeared. With all the new technology, they used sonar and located his truck in a lake too. Stuff like this fascinates me.
posted by annieb at 6:24 PM on June 13

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