The Seaplane That Sunk In Seneca Lake

The Seaplane That Sunk In Seneca Lake

Did you know that a seaplane sank in Seneca Lake back in 1972? In this episode of The History And Mysteries Of Seneca Lake, I’m going to share the story of a prototype aircraft that plunged into the depths of the lake and was pulled up 18 years later. We’ll dive inside the amazing recovery of the wreckage and learn the backstory of this fascinating event.

An Unexpected Crash

In August of 1972, a prototype Schweizer aircraft plane with two men on board crashed and sank in Lake Seneca. During an attempted takeoff, there was an accident and the plane flipped. The men were hurt but rescued, while the plane sank 300 to 350 feet in the waters of Seneca Lake.

After years of planning, this seaplane was brought up from the depths on March 19, 1990. This recovery effort was thanks to a submarine called “Lake Diver,” a mothership called Tender Nelly, and a 1977 Chevy wrecker truck with a tow line. This seaplane sat underwater for 18 years in the cold depths of Seneca Lake.

Bringing Up The Wreckage

The local newspaper article from March 26, 1990, described a crowd of about 500 that gathered in Watkins Glen on Sunday to get a close look at the Teal 2020T Amphibian seaplane as it returned from the depths of Seneca Lake. Submariner Webb Maynard of Ashland used his submarine, Lake Diver, to pull up the wreckage.

“The impossible became possible Sunday afternoon,” the article notes, “              when this seaplane lost in Seneca Lake nearly 18 years ago emerged into bright sunshine. The event witnessed by an estimated 500 applauding people fulfills a promise made five years ago by local Submariner Webb Maynard. Experts said the aircraft was so deep it couldn’t be salvaged.”

“Maynard and his homemade submarine Lake Diver proved them all wrong besides the Village Marina at the south end of the lake. Its cockpit smashed but otherwise intact, the Teal 2020T Amphibian slowly came ashore at the end of a cable attached to Steven Stickler’s 1977 Chevy wrecker. The seaplane’s tanks were still full of gasoline, and Maynard said he was able to turn the motor by its propeller after oil was added to the crankcase.”

Examining The Salvaged Craft

Can you believe that? The article goes on to relate what happened next. “Scuba divers Tom Brooks of Millport, John Maynard and Rocky Rakich of Elmira, and Larry Doud of Buffalo first inflated inner tubes, which floated the craft from its resting place about 100 feet from shore. Stickler, who owns a body shop and wrecker service in Elmira, then slowly winched the aircraft ashore.”

“‘I’m surprised to see it,’ said William Schweizer as he examined the craft. He was at the controls when the experimental plane crashed during a takeoff attempt on August 29, 1972.” March is a very cold month at the end of winter, so for that many people to have been out there, it really must have been a sight. I wish I had been there!

Pictures of the recovery show divers and the tow line as the Teal 2020T was tugged out of Seneca Lake. Maynard found Schweizer’s earphones inside the dripping cockpit and handed them to the Schweizer aircraft board chairman. Can you believe that his headphones were still hanging in the cockpit?

Drawing A Crowd

Maynard, a fire department captain who lived off Route 14 in the town of Ashland, said the salvage was satisfying but it’s time to move on. “This thing’s been a myth for 18 years,” he was quoted as saying. “Now maybe people will leave me alone and I can go into what I want.”

Maynard was surprised at the number of people who turned out for the salvage—a “thundering herd” he called them. But how often do you get a chance to see an airplane come out of the water in one piece after 18 years? At first, spectators were allowed to crowd around the seaplane. Later, the area was roped off.

Maynard and his helpers emptied the gas tanks; I can’t believe the gas was still in there. You’d think that things at the bottom of a lake would start to disintegrate, but the gas tanks were one of them. The aircraft’s wings were then removed and the seaplane was transported to Maynard’s home.

How It Happened

This story really goes back to 1972 when William Schweizer and his co-pilot Donald Quigley attempted to take off from the south end of the lake in their Teal 2020T Amphibian. The seaplane hit a big wave, which flipped it into the air before they had gained enough speed to fly. The aircraft went back in nose first and flipped over.

Fortunately, the cockpit canopy opened when the aircraft went in. Quigley’s head struck the controls, knocking him unconscious, though he revived as Schweizer released his passenger from a seatbelt. This allowed the two men to swim away from the crash.

Rescued by Mr. And Mrs. Donald Romeo of Montour Falls and Robert Callahan of Watkins Glen. The aircraft floated for about 75 minutes before sinking. Schweizer was hospitalized for less than a week, and Quigley for two weeks.

Finding The Seaplane

Years later, Maynard vowed he’d attempt to salvage the seaplane when he finished building his submarine three years ago. Maynard was testing his sub sonar when they found the missing seaplane flipped upside down in the mud. Mr. Maynard, who had the submarine that ultimately rescued it, always knew that story about that seaplane being down there since 1972—and he always intended to try to find it.

The salvage couldn’t begin until Maynard finished building the submarine’s mothership, Tender Nellie. He used the sub to attach cables to the seaplane, and the cables were then attached to the tender. This towed the aircraft to within 100 feet of the shore, setting the stage for the final step. They had to plan the salvage for five years.

Mr. Schweizer was the original pilot in 1972, and he was there when the seaplane was pulled out. Schweizer said as he looked at the plane, he was asked if he lost any personal effects in the crash. He answered that he lost a little of his pride, but he’s lucky he made it out with his life.

An Uncovered Mystery

If you are one of the 500 people that were there when that seaplane was pulled out of Seneca Lake, know anything about the backstory, or have any intel on this or other history or mysterious stories about Seneca Lake, I’d love to hear them. You can find me on my new Facebook page, The History and Mysteries of Seneca Lake, or message me directly. And remember, your real estate referrals are greatly appreciated.

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