Cleaning up the wreckage at Lake Tahoe
Sun News Service
Frank Hublou and John Schottenheimer were thankful to walk away after Hublou’s 1946 Republic Seabee seaplane flipped over and sank into Lake Tahoe Thursday.
“I never thought something like this could happen,” Hublou said.
Both men were on hand about 7 p.m. Thursday as the plane was pulled out of the water by a Hummer and onto Ski Beach in Incline Village, about eight hours after their plane took on water right after landing on Lake Tahoe.
Hublou, 71, is a veteran pilot with more than 45 years of flying experience and multiple FAA certifications.
The Carson City resident flew missions for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and was out for a morning excursion with fellow Carson resident Schottenheimer, 62, when the two landed the plane on Lake Tahoe. They touched down about one mile off of Burnt Cedar Beach in Incline about 10:30 a.m.
“We had just been tooling around for about 20 or thirty minutes and I was sitting in the water when I noticed my left pontoon (right from a frontal-view of the plane) was sitting a little lower in the water than the other,” Hublou said. “And as I looked at the pontoon it kept going down and then it kinked. At that point it opened up like a can and started taking on water.”
Hublou and Schottenheimer decided they would drive the plane back to shore for repairs. That wasn’t the case, however.
“I thought that once the pontoon sunk in, the wing would float and we’d be able to get back to shore,” Hublou said. “But, the wing started taking on water, it’s not sealed or anything, and then I could see what was coming.”
What was coming was a complete rollover of Hublou’s plane ” both he and Schottenheimer found themselves inside the now-upside down aircraft, which was taking on water.
“When it was apparent the plane would roll, I put in a mayday call to civil air patrol and called 9-1-1 on my cell phone to let them know we were out there,” Schottenheimer said. The call was recorded at 11 a.m., said local rescue officials.
He said he was thankful the pair rolled-over only a mile from shore ” adding if they were any further out into the lake they may have waited much longer for rescue.
The two managed to use the seat cushions from the plane as flotation devices until tourists in a rented boat pulled them from the water.
Incline resident Carl Cooper watched the scene unfold from his own boat and drove out to the scene. Schottenheimer branded him a ‘saint’ for staying with the pair for the entire episode, as Cooper eventually used a winch attached to his Hummer truck to pull the plane from the water.
Ben Coffindaffer, a deputy with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, was also on the scene early and was followed closely by rescuers from the North lake Tahoe Fire Protection District aboard their rescue boat, Marine 16.
Marine 16 worked from shortly after 11 a.m. until about 1:30 p.m. trying to pull the boat ashore at Ski Beach. Capt. Steve Alcorn of the NLTFPD said the boat pulled the plane, which survived the day nearly intact, until the plane began taking on water and pulling the boat down. Then, Alcorn said he needed to cut it off for fear it would pull the boat under about one half mile east of Burnt Cedar Beach.
The plane had been attached to multiple buoys to float it, but they couldn’t hold the vessel on the surface and it plunged 30 feet to the bottom of Lake Tahoe.
Once the boat was submerged, High Sierra Marine, Inc., took over and completed the plane’s arduous journey to Ski Beach.
High Sierra Owner Geoff Burrows was aboard one of his two crane-equipped boats, which dispatched to the emergency from their Tahoe City base of operations.
Burrows said diver Steve Whichman dove down to inflate airbags inside the plane, which brought it to the surface, before the boats ” “John Henry” and “Little John” ” worked in concert to flip the plane over. It took most of the afternoon and early evening for the boats to pull the plane close to the Ski Beach shore.
Cooper then attached a winch cable from his Hummer to a series of chains and ropes to reach the plane’s wheels.
In front of a group of 30 to 40 Incline residents snapping photos, Cooper drove his Hummer into the water until it was partially submerged and began to drive hard in reverse, pulling the plane into shore.
After several re-adjustments with the assistance of Incline Village General Improvement District staff, Cooper pulled the plane onto shore.
That’s when an IVGID bucket loader hitched up to the plane and pulled it further onto the beach ” the culmination of eight hours of work.
Allen Kenitzer, a regional spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said the accident is still under investigation and a report on why the plane flipped and sank may not be available for weeks or months.
The plane was disassembled Friday on the beach.
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