Lake Havasu offering cash to find lost wreckage

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The mystery of what happened to wreckage from two decades-old airplane crashes over Lake Havasu is one city officials would like solved.

In the hope of bringing closure - not to mention tourists to the lake - the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau is offering $1,000 to anyone who can track down the wreckage from a 1960 plane crash or one that occurred in 1943.

"Why let any more time go by as these planes continue to be subject to the elements at the bottom of our lake? Why not try to find them now and try to salvage these planes," Visitors Bureau President Doug Traub said.

GPS coordinates and photographic proof are needed to claim the reward, Traub said.

Bud Phillips, a longtime Lake Havasu City resident, was 19 when he witnessed the January 1960 crash. Phillips and two friends were about to go out duck hunting when they watched the single-engine, World War II-era fighter plane take off.

"These two guys were in the cockpit and they were warming it up," Phillips said.

Phillips said the aircraft made a sharp right turn. That's when something went wrong and the airplane "just nosedived right into the lake." The men drove down to the lake and took a boat out to the crash site.

"We found bubbles and oil slick. There was nothing we could do. All we could do was just look," Phillips said.

The two men were brothers from California who were also on their way to go duck hunting, according to Lake Havasu city officials. Their bodies were recovered, but the plane never was. The incident has become local lore over the years, adding to the mystery of what lies beneath Lake Havasu.

Joel Silverstein, owner of the Lake Havasu City's only instructional diving facility, plans to go on the hunt Monday. He and a four-member crew will start at a spot where one of the planes was known to have departed. Following a grid pattern, they will go back and forth with a proton magnetometer, a device that picks up magnetic signals from iron or steel materials through water. Wherever they get a blip, that is where they will dive in.

For Silverstein, who said he is spending more than $1,000 on the hunt, it's not about the money.

"In some respects it's folly," Silverstein said. "Whenever you find something lost under the sea or under a lake, it's always fun. ... Really, when it comes down to it, if it exists, it will be a great piece for Lake Havasu's history."

The lake has an average depth of 35 feet with the deepest point about 90 feet. Silverstein believes the wreckage crashed in some trees at the bottom or is buried under silt. Silverstein said if he's lucky, any wreckage could be found in a day. But he's also had experiences shipwreck hunting for days and finding nothing.

"If it doesn't exist, it doesn't," Silverstein said. "We'll just keep the rumor going - not that it doesn't exist (but) we just haven't found it yet."

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