A rare piece of American history sitting at the bottom of Lake Mead in Boulder City, Nevada, will again be open to scuba divers.
A B-29 Superfortress World War II plane crash landed in Lake Mead in 1948 and wasn’t found again until 2002.
Public access to the crash site has been restricted for the past six years, but is now open again for a brief period.
Joel Silverstein and his dive crew have been given a special permit to give guided tours to this rare piece of American history.
“The B-29’s were very important during World War II,” said Silverstein. “They carried all the different bombs and a lot of people flew in them and they were the most popular and most used plane in World War II.”
The dive site is about a 30 minute boat ride from Echo Bay near Overton, Nevada. The war plane has sat there for nearly 70 years and Silverstein says viewing the plane is like a trip back in time.
“You want to think of the B-29 Overton site like a museum. And just like when you go into a museum, you go in with a guide. We take you down the anchor line across a mooring to a gateway to get to it,” he said.
The wreckage has been closed off to the public since 2009. Damage from visitors and the economic downturn forced the National Park Service to rethink access to the site.
“We did see some minor damage happen to the plane – people kicking it, stepping on things, touching certain areas,” said Silverstein.
The historically low water level of Lake Mead has let sunlight filter down to the bottom, illuminating the wreckage so divers can get a better look.
“The other advantage of the site being in shallower water is that more divers can actually access it,” said Silverstein. “Prior to it being at 118 feet, you had to have very heavy technical diving skills to dive it.”
Silverstein says there is noticeable damage to the bomber since the last time he’s been there.
An invasive species of quagga mussels cover the plane’s wings like a furry coat. The tail section and some internal components have also been damaged by the mussels.
“What’s happened with the quagga mussels is, they’ve attached themselves to the material,” said Silverstein. “They’ve added weight to some of that material and it’s torn off, so sections of the tail that were there before are no longer there.”
The B-29 was on a classified mission carrying a crew of five in July 1948. The plane was ditched into Lake Mead, skimming across the water, ripping off all but one engine. The five men floated for six hours until they were rescued.
Confusion about where the plane sunk caused the plane wreckage to go missing for more than 50 years until it was found in 2002 with the use of sonar.
The B-29 Superfortress crash site is only open for a limited time. For the next two years, they’ll run about 100 dives a year – a limited number to prevent damage to the crash site itself.
For more information visit Joel’s website.
Photo: Mel Clark