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Below The Surface: How Forensic Divers Analyse Crime Scenes Underwater

Drowning is the third-highest cause of death around the world, yet underwater recovery and aquatic forensic investigation remain heavily underresourced and underresearched. 

Forensic investigator and scientific diver, Sarah Mormino, made it her mission to change the way underwater crime scenes are handled.

“We should always be doing a preliminary investigation from within the water, a swim around,” Mormino said.

Forensic diver Sarah Mormino talks about underwater investigations on the Crime Insiders podcast:

A major challenge in underwater investigations is visibility, Mormino said often you can only see inches in front of your face. She believes this is often used as an excuse.

“If we’re just dragging a body through the water, you’re washing away all that trace DNA that could be under fingernails on the body in the wounds. Really anything that’s attached to the body. If there’s any fibres they’re just washing away.”

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Mormino says documentation should start in the water, by noting the condition of the body, collecting DNA and marking the location, water temperature, depth and bottom conditions.

On the Crime Insiders podcast, she described shadowing a Police diving team, saying she noticed “there was so much more that could be done”. The team were investigating what they thought was an accidental drowning.

“Everyone’s under this mindset that it’s just, let’s document this scene and it’s an accident. Close it out. Pulled them up on shore when he was flipped over. It turned out he had over 30 stab wounds throughout his body.”

“So now it’s the immediate oh, crap, this is a homicide. Now what?”

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