Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tour companies can still apply to dive sunken bomber at Lake Mead

The National Park Service is extending its application deadline for dive companies that want to take tourists on an underwater trip to see a B-29 Super­fortress at the bottom of Lake Mead.

The original deadline was Friday, but officials at Lake Mead National Recreation Area decided to extend it until Feb. 20 after just one company applied. Park spokeswoman Christie Vanover said the extension also gives the park a chance to clarify an application process that might have been confusing to prospective tour operators.

Park officials do not expect the later deadline to change the overall schedule for the enterprise. They still hope to review the applications and issue commercial dive permits by mid-March or early April and see the first tours of the sunken bomber by this summer. “That is still a goal of ours,” Vanover said.

The B-29 crashed in the lake’s Overton Arm on July 21, 1948, during a mission to test a secret ballistic missile guidance system.

All five crew members survived, but the bomber was lost until August 2001, when a team of local divers discovered it sitting upright and mostly intact on the lake bottom.

In 2003, archaeologists from the Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center documented the wreck. Five years later, the Park Service awarded one-year permits to two companies — one from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and the other from Ventura, Calif. — for guided technical dives at the site, then at a depth of roughly 160 feet.

Those first two permits were not renewed in 2009 because the companies struggled to turn a profit on the expensive, technical dives.

The Park Service is now offering what it hopes is a more enticing deal: a two-year, commercial-use permit allowing up to 100 divers a year at the B-29 wreck and unlimited scuba instruction and charter dives to other “submerged resources” in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The Park Service won’t give the bomber’s precise location or depth because the site is considered a “protected resource,” but a diver familiar with the wreckage said it now rests beneath roughly 110 feet of water.

Permit applications for B-29 tour operators are available at www.nps.gov/lake/parknews/b-29-permit.htm.

Story and photo:  http://www.reviewjournal.com