GAINESVILLE, Ga. – A man with an uncanny ability to find hidden treasure is using his talents to help swimmers recover lost items from the depths of Lake Lanier.
Richard Pickering, the self-described “Scubaman” of Lake Lanier, helped a couple find their wedding ring at the bottom of the lake over Labor Day weekend. He officiated a special ring ceremony on the beach after a five-hour search.
“He tried to just put the ring back on her finger but I told him – you gotta do it right,” Pickering told 11Alive.
Pickering said he has an “uncanny ability to spot anomalies” – he said he’s even spotted a four-leaf clover from the second story of a building.
He has lived near Lake Lanier most of his life and gets several calls for help recovering lost items every day – from rings to sunglasses and even drones.
“You just never know what’s going to come in – the phone rings and I go,” Pickering said.
Pickering’s skills made headlines last summer after he tried to help find a diamond earring belonging to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who lost it while jet-skiing.
Pickering helped scour the bottom of the lake for the earring – worth approximately $150,000.
Ultimately the earring was never recovered. Pickering believes it still lies 65 feet below the surface of the water.
“It’s down in crevasses and nooks and crannies,” Pickering told 11Alive’s Brenden Keefe. “It’s impossible. Absolutely impossible.”
Jones told CBS Sports the earring was insured.
“It’s materialistic stuff,” Jones said. “You can always get that stuff back.”
While the recovery mission for Jones’ diamond earring made Pickering a common name around town, he said most of his clients come from word-of-mouth among neighbors at Lake Lanier.
“Most people who call me are pretty desperate to get their stuff back,” Pickering said.
In May, Pickering said he got a call to recover an iPhone at the bottom of Port Royale.
“The boaters were going to Pelican Pete’s for lunch and were having a ‘good time’ at the courtesy dock. [The woman] was stepping off the boat when her cell phone jumped out of her hands and did a swan dive into the lake,” Pickering said.
He dove 46 feet below the surface through muck and mud, with visibility of only about 5 feet – and that was with a can light with 1600 lumens attached to his vest.
“The lake bottom gets churned up with all the boats coming and going … so it’s like diving in a smoke cloud,” Pickering said.
After some time, he found an iPhone lodged sideways 6 inches down in mud.
However, it was the wrong phone.
“I went back down again at the front of the slip and found her phone in about 2 minutes. Cool thing – it was still on when I got it to the surface. And it still worked!”
In another case, Pickering helped a woman recover her phone from the bottom of the lake and the phone started ringing.
"I looked at the phone and handed it to this woman and said, 'Hey Wendy, it's for you!' She was very excited. And the phone worked!"
Pickering said he started diving about 40 years ago while he was a student at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.
“There was one type of dive instruction – open water,” Pickering said. “The class was taught by ex Navy Seals.”
Today, Pickering is stocked up with heavy duty lights, metal detectors, dredging equipment and wet suits.
He said each dive is like uncovering a mystery – he interviews the person to figure out where they were the last time they saw the lost item to figure out where it might have ended up.
If an item sinks into muck at the bottom of the lake, Pickering said he will “take a picture” of the location in his head, then do a hand search at the bottom of the lake and start digging.
“The mud is like whipped cream on the top. When you go deeper into the mud, it turns into a thick and sticky goo,” Pickering said. “Sticking your hand in the muck is not a great idea. There are broken bottles, rusting metal, fishing hooks … I wear gloves to protect my hands, to make sure whatever is in that hole doesn’t bite me back!"
He said he can recover most items within 5 minutes.
“Getting to the location is what takes the most amount of time,” he said.
His advice to protect valuable items during a day at the lake?
“Leave the expensive stuff at home. Don’t bring your fancy smartphone on the lake, stick with cheap sunglasses and leave the wedding rings at home.”
He also asked lakegoers to make sure that all of the belongings they brought to the lake – including trash – leaves with them.
“Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a natural reef in a fresh water lake,” Pickering said. “Put trash where it belongs – not the bottom of the lake.”