MYSTERY WIRE — After more than 70 years sitting almost undisturbed at the bottom of Lake Mead, a World War II B-29 bomber is about to become a tourist attraction.
It was July 1948, three years after the end of the war, when the crew of the bomber returning from a research mission over the Grand Canyon experienced engine trouble over the lake.
“According to reports, the lake was glassy. They felt they were 100 feet above the surface. Little did they know they were a lot lower,” said Rosy Potito with the National Park Service. “They hit the water. The number two, three and four engines were ripped off from the crash.”
A crash report on the incident remained classified for 50 years. Now, the unclassified report reveals details about the crash and hints about the location of the plane. The crew estimated the plane skipped a quarter-mile or more before settling down and sinking.
The crew, which was made up of four military men and a civilian, scrambled into a raft and floated around for six hours before being rescued. There were conflicting reports about where the crash occurred. Some thought it was near Temple Bar and others were sure it was somewhere in the Overton Arm.
“We have a general idea of where it is, but I don’t know if anyone has an exact idea,” Potito said in 2001.
It was eventually located in the Overton arm of the lake, but its true location remains a tightly guarded secret.
At the time when the bomber was found, it was around 300 feet below the surface. Now, with the lake level falling dramatically over the years, it’s at around 115 feet below the surface.
This also means light is now reaching the wreckage. When it was first discovered the plane was sitting in silent darkness.
In 2002 when the discovery of the bomber was made public, the location was not released. The team that made the discovery did not want people to strip parts from the plane.
Now, 18 years later, the park service has awarded two companies contracts to provide guided technical dives on the bomber.
“Las Vegas Scuba and Scuba Training and Technology are going to help ensure this history is protected while enhancing recreational access, giving experienced divers the opportunity to safely view the iconic plane,” Park Superintendent Margaret L. Goodro added.
Las Vegas Scuba and Scuba Training and Technology are authorized to provide 100 guided client dives on the B-29 site each year for the next two years. The companies may also provide unlimited scuba instruction and scuba charter for other locations within the park.
This B-29 Superfortress bomber was one of only 4,000 made by the U.S. during the war. Today, there are only two considered airworthy and another 22 on static display.
Over the years before 2001, all sorts of people tried to find the plane, including the government. They’ve used robots and radar and diving gear and instinct with no luck. A few of the searchers claimed to have seen the bomber; some alleged to have pictures or video, but none of the claims panned out.
The B-29 isn’t the only plane to be swallowed up by the lake. In 1943, the late Howard Hughes crashed a transport plane near the Las Vegas Wash. Hughes survived, but another man was killed. Also, a much smaller plane plunged into 500 feet of water at the base of the dam in the 1940s, and has never been recovered, nor have the two bodies on board.
The creation of Lake Mead in the 1930’s swallowed up entire towns — Calville was one; St Thomas another. Many sites related to the construction of the dam were also buried underwater. With the lowered Lake levels you can now hike to the ruins of St. Thomas, which is also in the Overton arm area.