Diver discovers, returns camera holding decades of memories from the bottom of Claytor Lake

Photos dating as far as 2006 were recovered after nearly a decade of being lost

Diver saves camera at the bottom of Claytor Lake, returning it to its owner
Diver saves camera at the bottom of Claytor Lake, returning it to its owner

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – Undergoing rescue training, a Blacksburg diver plunges into Claytor Lake and ends up finding a treasure that would change a woman’s life forever.

Strapping on her fins and adjusting her oxygen tank, Lilly Potts, a technical rescue diver with the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, plunged into Claytor Lake on a water rescue training mission.

Tied to a line, Potts swam through the murky water and spotted something five feet away from the dock: a camera covered in algae.

“I picked it up and we brought it and opened it up and an SD card was still in it,” Potts said. “I had a friend who cleaned it up.”

Despite the camera being submerged underwater for years, photos dating as far as 2006 were still intact.

“Oh my gosh, there are 300 pictures on this SD card,” she said. “I was pretty amazed.”

After posting on Facebook in search of the owner, Potts finally found Brenda Dalton.

Dalton’s memories of date nights with her husband, her daughter’s wedding, and even the birth of her grandson were all restored.

“And to be able to have all these pictures and to have someone do something so nice,” Dalton said. “To find me. The meaning is more than what I can express in words.”

She remembers the devastating moment of losing her camera eight years ago while on a fishing trip with her husband and grandson.

“Oh, it was horrid,” she said. “Oh, I cried. I know I cried for an hour. Just thinking about all the pictures on there. I am crying now just thinking about it.”

Finding phones, wallets, tools and cameras all the time in the water, Technical Rescue Coordinator Bob Barnes offers some advice.

“If you got a camera, take a picture with your contact information on it and that makes it a lot easier for us to get it back to you,” he said.

Learning to keep a backup of her photos, Dalton now plans to create a photo album with her new recovered memories.

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