The Mystery of Lake Mead - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, I-Team Reporter

The Mystery of Lake Mead

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(July 25) -- Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in the world, and beneath its waves lie many secrets.

One of the lake's most enduring mysteries is the location of a B-29 bomber that crashed into the lake 53 years ago this month. While conducting atmospheric research in July 1948, a B-29 returning from the Grand Canyon toward California experienced engine trouble as it passed low over Lake Mead.

"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 that it has been opened, it 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. Was it near Temple Bar, closer to the center of the lake? Or perhaps up 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.

It's not hard to figure out why people would want to find it. The B-29 is the same model used to bomb Hiroshima. Only 4,000 of the big planes were ever made. Of those, only 16 are intact today, and only one can fly.

Over the years, all sorts of people have tried to find the plane, including the government. They've used robots and radar and diving gear and instinct. No luck. A few of the searchers claim to have seen the bomber; some allege to have pictures or video, but none of the claims has panned out.

The best guess is that the plane is somewhere in the Overton Arm. Salvage operators have applied with the government to bring it up, if it could be found, but since the plane is now protected as an historical resource, they'd have to treat it right.

"Depending on what they wanted to do with it. One, it's government property. Two, would it benefit the public? Will they bring it up to put it in a museum? That's a possibility," said Potito.

But before any of that can be decided, someone would have to find it, and so far, the mystery of its location endures.

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 swallowed up entire towns -- Calville was one; St Thomas another. Many sites related to the construction of the dam were also buried underwater.

Of course, the lake probably holds many secrets that aren't known to anyone. "That's definitely a possibility. A lot of things have happened at Lake Mead we don't know about," said Potito.

A local businessman with extensive diving experience told Eyewitness News that he has definitely located the B-29, and that he has the radar images to prove it. He says it is in 300 feet of water in a unique and hidden spot in the Overton Arm. But when it came time to show us his proof, he changed his mind about doing the story.

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