LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The already low water level at Lake Mead is expected to drop this summer — which will reveal a lot of trash, but also some hidden treasures.
The recent discovery of a sunken speedboat turned out to be a treasure for an Arizona couple. On Tuesday, 8 News Now was there when the original owner reunited with the boat he crashed 46 years ago.
“Oh my gosh…we went sideways at 70 miles per hour,” Steve Buckalew,82, said when he first saw the remnants of his boat. He and his boat were last together at Lake Mead in the summer of 1977 — during a water ski marathon.
On that fateful day, Buckalew pulled up to the lake with his brand new custom-built 19-foot Hornet Super Sprint with a V6 outboard motor. One of the teams needed a boat and he was happy to help.
With his wife Virginia watching from the shore, his place in Lake Mead history happened in an instant. “It was violent, and it was fast, and I’m lucky I survived,” Buckalew said when remembering flipping the boat.
“All I saw was a great big splash out there but I didn’t know what it was,” Virginia Buckalew, Steve’s wife of 62 years said. “Then about 45 minutes later he walks up to me and he’s holding a piece of a boat and says ‘this is all I have left of my boat.'”
Little did the couple know there was actually a lot left of the boat, at the time resting more than 170 feet under the surface of Lake Mead. It did not get revealed until the summer of 2022.
“Every time something shows up on the bottom of Lake Mead we tell our friends, ‘oh maybe someday they’ll find our boat,'” Virginia said. “Well, they found our boat.”
“I was 37 years old, I’m 82 now, almost 83, and of course, I long forgot,” Steve said while examining the smashed remains of his boat. “It’s one of those things that happened in your life. I didn’t expect this – but I was surprised.” “(I) Always wondered what happened to it and whether the divers actually found it and moved it or what,” Virginia added.
Steve’s wife said the two recently sold their last boat, but she also said she knows her husband would just right back into a boat if she allowed it. “I look at this and I realize I believe God’s hand was on me even though I was doing foolish stuff,” Steve said.
The Buckalews hope to bring one or more of their three grown children, or numerous grandchildren out to the lake soon to show them the boat.
Though the boat doesn’t look the same as it did in its heyday, a close examination shows one of its delightful features: painted on the side of the boat was a cartoon showing a Woody Woodpecker-type character driving the same boat, with Buckalew’s boat number 049, and a giant Evinrude motor. Upon close inspection of the hull, the cartoon can still be seen. The image below has the cartoon highlighted along with an original (flipped) cartoon of what it would have looked like in 1977.
Over the last year, many people have asked if there are any plans for anyone to remove the boats and other items that are becoming exposed and have become hazards for people at the lake. When asked if there are plans to remove the boats, the National Park Service (NPS) wrote, “There are many sunken boats at Lake Mead; some of which are historic structures. As vessels continue to surface, park staff document their locations and assess for potential hazards or threats to environmental or human safety. But it is not standard park policy to remove a boat from the lake due to it being a labor-intensive, multifaceted and costly process.”
According to the NPS, “If the public sees a navigation hazard that’s not marked, they should call 702-293-8778 to report it.” It’s also important to remember it is against federal law to remove anything from Lake Mead National Recreation Area without prior permission.
However, if someone or a group is interested in volunteering some time and effort to remove Buckalew’s boat, the National Park Service at Lake Mead would like to hear from you.