On the 21st of July, 1948, RB-29F SN:45-21847 crashed into Lake Mead Reservoir, Nevada. The aircraft was flown out of NAWS China Lake, Armitage Field, Inyokern, California. Captain Robert M. Madison and the four man crew were participating in operation “Sun Tracker”. The purpose of this project was to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile guidance system that used the sun for direction and positioning.
The crash report states that the Star Tracker system operator requested a low pass on Lake Mead. I think the pilot just wanted to buzz the lake after a rather boring mission. The lake was glassy smooth that day and the pass was supposed to be at 300 feet. Due to the water conditions, Madison misjudged his height and hit the water.
In a wings level attitude, the B-29 skipped over the water once and came to rest hundreds of yards later where in settled wings level and sank. No MAYDAY call was made due to the abruptness of the mishap. The crew escaped without injury and then floated on Lake Mead for four and a half hours before being rescued.
Shipwreck #4 – The Secret Of Lake Mead from NPS Submerged Resources Center on Vimeo.
The wreck sat undisturbed until a private Daddy/Daughter dive team led by Gregg Mikolasek of In Depth Consulting found the wreck of the B-29 in the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, using side scan sonar. Because of the equipment on board the wreck’s approximate location and mission had remained classified by the Department of Defense until 2005.
The initial depth of over 600 feet kept the wreck out of reach of only experienced deep divers. The water level of Lake Mead has now dropped to a level that allows recreational divers to tour wreck and the site is manage by the National Park Service.
Through the years, rumors have been spread that the wreck is radioactive. This is not true because the crash happened four year before the first atomic test in Nevada occurred with SHOT ABLE at 5:45 27 local time on January 1951 at Frenchman Flat, Nevada.