As most folks know, Lake Mead located near Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the top five fresh viagra 100mg water diving destinations in the US.
What many may not know is that in 1948 a modified B29A Superfortress Bomber sunk in the Lake (the crew survived) never to be seen again until 2001 when a local dive team lead by Gregg Mikolasek dove on it. More information available at: www.indepthconsulting.com
As of this article, the National Park Service is planning on opening this site to the general public. More than likely it will be a permitted dive with proper technical diving credentials needed to obtain the permission. I had the opportunity be a part of the dive team that dove on the wreck recently with Gregg Mikolasek. This was his first dive on the wreck since 2002.
As with all technical diving you need to plan for the depth and time of the dive. Then you must properly equip yourself to accommodate the task so that you can methodically make the dive and return safely. So, twin tanks with two regulators, bcd with double bladders and a deco bottle properly mixed for the dive plan is a minimal requirement. You also have to figure in bottom timers, back up analog gauges in case your battery operated ones fail and then last but not least dive lights, back ups, lift bags, reels and back up air decompression if needed. If this sounds like allot of work for one dive, you would be correct.
On the top side we prepare ourselves for entry. Donning our dry suits, squeezing into our tank harnesses, configuring our regulators, octos, L.P. hoses, gauges, wrist mount computers etc. We both make less than graceful entries into the water and start to check our over 200 pounds of gear for obvious entanglements, etc.
We compare our dive plan once again and with the thumbs down signal we start the initial descent. At 30 feet we perform a bubble check and then on to 100 feet where we decide if the dive is a “go” or “abort”. Today it is a “go”.
As we descend, ambient light starts to filter out and our dive lights only reflect the greenish tinted water of Lake Mead. All you can really reference is the down line and your dive buddy so we continue to descend much like a sky diver before he pulls his parachute cord, legs and arms out to control our fall. Once we reach 130 feet the water temp is at 50 degrees and dropping. The pressure has us constantly adding air to our dry suits and bcd’s to control the rate of our descent.
During this phase of the dive we start to feel the effects of the higher than normal amount of nitrogen we are breathing and narcosis becomes part of the dive (much like the feeling of a few drinks). While it is a concern, it is part of the technical divers training to handle this.
130 feet, 140 feet, 150 feet, and touch down. I am looking at my dive buddy Gregg as he points to something around my left shoulder. As I add some air to my BCD and dry suit to attain neutral buoyancy I am treated to a sight that will take your breath away. The tail of a B-29 Bomber. At first I could not focus, as it was this shadow blocking out the little ambient light that was able to pierce down this far. I was amazed. “This plane is huge”, I thought to myself.I saw some black numbers and rays of light glowing from the edges but at 29 feet tall the tail is just a fraction of the rest of the 100 foot plus long plane. With visibility that day limited to 30 feet you have to piece what you are seeing in your mind like a puzzle.
Since 1990 when I first started hearing rumors of a sunken B-29 at Lake Mead I was intrigued. I finally started really asking around in 1996 when I was able to acquire information from the National Park Service station in Boulder City Nevada. The documents were for the registration of a B-29 as a National Historic Site. They gave approximate Latitude and Longitude coordinates for the location and even included a brief history of how and when it went down.
From then on I was hooked. Like the guy who sits on his sailboat talking about a trip around the world and never leaving his slip, I talked allot but never really did anything about actually finding this plane. Oh, we took the boat out and with our depth finder ran a few lanes looking in the area that it was supposed to be, but at 300 feet we really didn’t do much about it. Then I became busy, marriage, children, working etc.
So, here I was, realizing a dream. A once in a lifetime dive right here in my back yard. I shook off my amazement, checked my air pressure, took a quick look at gauges and started off past the tail section following Gregg as he took the lead.
Each careful kick of my fins propelled me to another spot of the plane that I was seeing for the first time. The gunners turret had been removed and replaced with a hatch that was moved opened. I stuck my head in and pointed my light inside. The aluminum skeleton was in great shape as I imagined what it must have looked like in 1948. Over 50 years ago this plane went down to the depths of Lake Mead and here it was resting in dignity. The silver finish had been replaced by a light dusting of silt and calcium build up but the plane still looked like it wanted to take off and fly again. As we continued surveying the wreck our next stop was the nose section. Right there was the steering yoke, instruments and what was left of the nose after it hit the lake bottom. Gregg motioned me to touch the yoke, and when I did I imagined the plane cruising at 230 MPH before it crashed on the lake surface. Each breath of air gave me another chance to stay here lingering back in history. I thought about the workers who’s rivets still held fast and the plane hanging in the air with one engine barely running as it laid on the surface above me.
We swooped over to the left wing and I saw that it was still above ground. Then to my surprise, the one and only engine was there. Again it was larger than I expected. The bent propeller was at least 12 feet long. I put my arms around the engine and could barely cover the top. To think there was four of these monsters on this plane at one time. We poked around under the wing and saw one for the landing gear pieces still in tact waiting to come out. Upon further inspection I could see the tire and tread.
Another air check, 1800 psi and time 14 minutes 180 feet deep. We had to be back at the up line ready to ascend in 6 minutes. Time was flying by quickly. I gave my buddy the circular OK signal with the light and he did the same. We went a bit further out onto the wing and saw where one of the engines was ripped from the mount. The force of the plane ramming the lakes surface ripped three off just like that. It surprised me that anything was left. But here it was.
We worked our way back on the same side of the tail where our line was. Now that I was settled into the dive I was able to look into the window and see how the plane had faired over the past 50 plus years. While lying in silt, it was not silted over. I figured I was the 20th or so to see this plane and had Gregg to thank for the opportunity.
As we passed the tail section one last time our dive was at exactly 20 minutes. We gave each other the signal and slowly made our way to the first micro bubble stop at 100 feet. As we ascended up the line I watched the tail section disappear where we left it. The chance to realize my dream, even if I wasn’t the one to find it, still gave me a sense of fulfillment.
On this day we dove with a 40% Deco Mix so we switched at 90 feet in between venting BCD’s and dry suits to control our ascent. For the next 30 minutes we went to our pre determined stops at 60 feet, 40 feet, 30 feet and then the final one at 15 feet. I was pumping my fists and celebrating this dive. I reached over and shook Gregg’s hand and voiced to him “Thanks Man”. He knew I was grateful and I think that even though he had logged dozens of dives on this plane, he felt renewed a bit too. It had been over three years since he had last dove on the wreck.
We surfaced and with my frozen lips I screamed out some sort of incoherent sentence about how cool the dive was. Gregg agreed and we floated there on the smooth surface as the sun warmed our faces on what turned out to be a perfect day for a perfect dive. For me it was also a Birthday Gift as the next day I turned 40.
Instructor Bill is a PADI Master Instructor and TDI Instructor. He is also a USCG Captain and currently manages the Dive Shop operations and instructional efforts for Dive Las Vegas and OnlineScuba.com.