PICHER, Okla — The latest search effort for the remains of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible have moved to a pond north of the former city's old high school. Safety issues with this pond, however, have dive teams turning to more advanced technology that what was used in a pond Tuesday. 

The pond is a sinkhole near Picher-Cardin High School, located at 715 W. A Street, and is the site of a mine collapse in the '60s, said Sgt. Justin Farley, of the Tulsa Police Department's dive team. That creates a number of safety concerns about depths, low visibility, currents and suction that did not exist Tuesday, when divers searched a pond where deceased suspect Phil Welch once resided. 

Sonar was deployed to identify promising areas to search, Farley said. 

"We identified a couple of areas we wanted to look at," Farley said. "The sonar is a faster search, and very accurate."

Instead of divers exploring the spots, a remote-operated vehicle from the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service is being used. The service's ROV is equipped with a camera and arms with grips that can move discovered objects. Farley said the ROV is basically an underwater drone capable of producing a "crystal clear image" of what's below. 

Divers on Tuesday searched the about 2-acre pond at 412 S. College St. entirely by feel, Farley said. Divers used a 100-foot length of rope stretched between two stakes to navigate across the pond. Once a diver reached the end of the rope, that end was moved a few feet, effectively creating a search grid. 

Tuesday's efforts also took place above water, yet below ground: Crews used ground-penetrating radar to search the College Street property. 

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe. 

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.

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