Parks Service protects B-29 in Lake Mead

Are you a diver? How would you like to dive on a B-29 that has sat undisturbed below the surface of Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nev., for the better part of the last century?

The National Parks Service, in charge of protecting the site, is pondering ways to allow access to the plane while simultaneously preserving it for future generations. This is why the parks service is limiting access to the site. If you want to dive, you’ll need a permit.

Unfortunately, it appears that some people have been diving illegally and not respecting either the airplane or the laws that govern national parks. During a recent NPS survey dive it was determined some items had been removed from the B-29.

“These people are not amateurs,” notes Roxanne Dey of the National Parks Service. “It is a very technical dive and you need special equipment.”

She declined to say what was taken, because the investigation into the thefts is ongoing.

The aircraft lies approximately 200 feet below the surface. The exact coordinates of the site have not been made public.

The B-29 crashed in 1948. The specially modified aircraft was being used for atmospheric research. It was skimming the lake when an incorrectly set altimeter and a glassy surface at sunset caused the pilot to get too low. The aircraft’s propellers hit the water and three of the four engines were ripped off. The plane bounced back into the air, then came down tail first. There were no casualties, except for the B-29.

The location of the wreck remained a mystery until 2001 when a private diving company found it. The company petitioned to have it removed from the lake so that it could be restored. The park service argued that when the plane went into the lake it became part of the park and shouldn’t be removed. Shortly after the discovery the site was surveyed by the park service, then declared off-limits to divers while the park service developed a stewardship plan.

To help protect the aircraft, the park service placed buoys around four acres surrounding the submerged airplane and made it a no diving, anchoring or mooring zone.

Experienced divers criticized the placement of the buoys as tantamount to putting out the welcome mat for the unscrupulous.

Dey counters that because of the depth and the topography of the lake floor, the wreck is still difficult to find, and points out that a boat loitering in or near the marked-off area will be easy to spot by security.

“We are testing different security measures on the lake,” she said. “It’s not like we can put a motion detector or laser on the lake. This in no way is ‘X Marks the Spot.’ This is one of many systems we are considering.”

Anyone who appears to be loitering near the area will surely be questioned, she said.

“Removing artifacts from a park is a felony,” Dey continued. “Our mission is to make sure the things that belong to the people stay in the park for everyone to enjoy. We need to protect them for future generations. Unfortunately, there is a small segment of the population who ignores the law. They think that if they find it, they can keep it. That’s not right.”

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