A hydrographic survey company accidentally found a missing aircraft in Folsom Lake, in California! Unusually dry conditions helped.
The company is called Seafloor Systems Inc. Folsom Lake is close to their base in Northern California – closer than any sea coast. So the company is using the lake to test a lot of their sea-going equipment. And it was during one of these test that the company saw something unusual. Soon, it became clear that it was a crashed aircraft, that had been missing for years.
Seafloor Systems were using an unmanned survey vessel (USV). The company makes several different versions of these vehicles, that use electric motors and GPS for guidance. Their role is to conduct precise underwater surveys in coastal areas. Among other equipment, these robotic vehicles carry an imaging sonar, to map a sea (or lake) bed floor. And obviously they can find and map objects at the water bed – like missing aircraft.
A Drought’s Silver Lining?
The company was using the rather low water levels of Folsom Lake, to test its equipment at different depths. This was when they found what was clearly an aircraft: it had a fuselage, wings and an empennage. At first, the team thought that they had found a missing aircraft from a New Year’s Day, 1965 crash. This was a mid-air collision between a Piper PA-24 Comanche, and a Beechcraft 35-33 Debonair.
The Beechcraft survived that collision, suffering a broken horizontal stabilizer. The aircraft’s pilot successfully landed it in Sacramento Airport. Unfortunately, the Comanche and its occupants weren’t as lucky. The aircraft lost portion of its right wing, and crashed into the Lake. The story and the missing aircraft are public knowledge in the area.
The depth of the lake at the location of the crash was such that the aircraft remained missing. Fast-forward to 2021, and this is the time of the year when Folsom Lake, and most other lakes in California, are quite low on water. Folsom is a man-made lake, that operates as a reservoir. And this year, all CA lakes are lower than usual.
Seafloor Systems recorded the depth of the location of the missing aircraft at 160 feet (49 metres). So they then sent a submersible ROV, complete with a camera and light, for a better look. They clearly saw a propeller and tail, which they thought was consistent with a PA-24.
Identifying The Missing Aircraft
The next day, they were back at the scene, this time with divers! They were Dive Team sergeants from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. Before diving, they tried the submersible again, to get more pictures of the missing aircraft. They soon determined that the plane related to a different accident, that took place in 1986.
The Sheriff’s Office of either County didn’t provide more detail in the type or identity of this newer aircraft. Aviation-safety.net doesn’t seem to have information on a 1986 accident or incident involving Folsom Lake. However, it seems that this was a ditching, not a crash. And unlike the 1965 accident, this one fortunately involved no fatalities. Authorities don’t intend to remove this aircraft from the bottom of the lake.
Also, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office statement gave this insight, into the missing aircraft in the 1965 crash:
“The relatives of the deceased from the 1965 plane crash do not wish for others to search for the plane or remains. They would like the final resting place for their family to remain at the bottom of Folsom Lake.”