FOLSOM, Calif. (KTXL) — In 1965, three people on board a Piper Comanche plunged into Folsom after a midair collision.
Navy divers never found the wreckage or bodies.
When the historic drought lowered levels at Folsom Lake in 2014, another attempt was made as relatives of the missing observed. Nothing was found despite sonar being used.
Just a few days ago, however, an underwater survey company out of Shingle Springs, named Seafloor Systems, stumbled upon something. They were testing remotely operated vessels on the lake using more sophisticated mapping sonar when an oddly shaped object was revealed 160 feet in the water.
“It looks a lot like a plane down there,” said Tyler Atkinson, with Seafloor Systems.
A team deployed an underwater robot with a high resolution camera Thursday for a closer look, but poor visibility on the silty lake was an issue.
A small sonar device helped clear that up for pilot Jeff Riley.
“I was able to drop down, see my reflector, pan left and it was there,” Riley said.
“The sonar gave us about 100 feet of range; you could see the plane as clear as day,” said Josh Tamplin, Seafloor Systems CEO. “We could see the fuselage here, we could see the right wing. We could see the tail.”
The camera showed even more conclusive images.
“Here, you can see the cowl housing of the engine and the props,” Tamplin said.
The last organized search for the plane took place in the deep water, including beneath the Folsom Dam. But it turns out the wreckage was not near the dam at all. The wreckage was found several miles away in one of the deepest parts of the lake, in what was the American River Channel.
“I think it’s amazing that after all this time, there’s been a lot of research and a lot of effort put in to finding this for the family and also to retrieve what no one knew was down there,” Atkinson said.
The shape seems to match up with the missing plane, but the camera was not able to get an aircraft number or see if any remains were on board.
Finding out more might have to wait until actual retrieval efforts are undertaken — perhaps when the water level goes down even more.
The Placer and El Dorado counties sheriff’s offices will meet with Seafloor Systems next week to see how its underwater technology can aid in the retrieval.