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Stay Out Stay Alive Fatal Accident Summaries
for 2005


Article published June 8, 2005
Body is found in slate quarry
Missing Montco man, 20, is located in water hole near Slatington

By Dan Hartzell and Randy Kraft of The Morning Call

The body of a Lansdale area man was pulled out of a Washington Township slate quarry late Tuesday, ending a three-day search.

Matthew C. Biehn, 20, had been missing in the water-filled quarry since late Sunday afternoon, according to state police at Bethlehem. His identity had been confirmed Tuesday afternoon by his 17-year-old brother, Jeff, who said Matthew has been swimming and ''jumping off the cliffs'' in quarries for years.

At least 25 volunteers participated in the recovery effort, which centered on one small boat, equipped with sonar and an underwater camera, meticulously crisscrossing the small quarry to locate the victim.

About 6:45 p.m., Lehigh County Chief Deputy Coroner Paul Zondlo confirmed the body was spotted on a video 155 feet down, the deepest part of the quarry. Divers pulled Biehn's body from the water just before 9 p.m., and a county deputy coroner pronounced him dead at the scene.

Remotely operated vehicles, small twin-propeller mini-submarines with gripping claws used for deep-water access, had been brought to the recovery site from VideoRay Co. in Exton, Chester County, to retrieve Biehn's body. Each not much bigger than a shoe box, the underwater units arrived about 8 p.m., but before they were even placed in the water, workers managed to snag Biehn's body using video cameras and rope, officials said.

Before the body was spotted, personnel from the Telford Volunteer Diving and Rescue Unit, who declined to give their names, said cold water keeps victims deep. They said the quarry water is only 45 degrees at the surface, and colder where it is deeper. There is no visibility in the quarry's water below a depth of 100 feet.

The Telford Diving personnel use air hoses from the surface, which let them breathe and talk to one another. Divers said the technique is safer than scuba for deep-water dives.

The three-day recovery operation emphasized the safety of emergency personnel, so ''there are no more victims'' in the rough terrain of steep slate slopes surrounding the quarries. Emergency personnel used ropes and body harnesses to go up and down the slate banks.

Among the agencies working with Slatington Fire Department at the quarry were the Lehigh County Technical Rescue Team, Whitehall Fire Department's Underwater Recovery Team, Northern Valley EMS, Pennsylvania State Police and the Lehigh County coroner's office.