Sea plane sinks on Tahoe
Sun News Service
A pair of Carson City men are unhurt after their seaplane malfunctioned, flipped over and eventually sank Thursday morning into Lake Tahoe’s waters just south of Burnt Cedar Beach.
The men ” pilot Frank Hublou and co-pilot John Schottenheimer ” were attempting to take off from the water. The plane eventually sank 30 feet, after taking on too much water for officials to safely beach the vessel. The aircraft, a Republic Seabee, leaked about 30 to 40 gallons of fuel into Lake Tahoe.
As of press time Thursday, Hublou and others were towing the aircraft from the lake, about a half-mile east of Burnt Cedar.
The seaplane took off at about 11 a.m. Thursday in the lake, about one mile south of Burnt Cedar Beach, and it immediately began taking on water, said Boatsman’s Mate 2nd Class Adam Season. of the Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe in Lake Forest, Calif. Hublou and Schottenheimer told Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ben Coffindaffer, who was the first rescuer on the scene by Jet Ski, that once the plane started to take off, its right pontoon began to take on water, spinning the plane multiple times.
Battalion Chief Scott Sutter, of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, was notified at 11:04 a.m. by Nevada Civil Air Patrol that the plane was in distress, about four minutes after takeoff.
Within a minute of takeoff, the plane flipped over onto its top, Coffindaffer said.
Coffindaffer said private citizens on a boat out of Crystal Bay were able to pull Hublou and Schottenheimer out of the water after they extracted themselves, uninjured, from the plane. Hublou owns the plane.
“They were both fine and out of the water by the time I got there,” Coffindaffer said. “They said they took off, did a few pirouettes and then the plane listed to the right and flipped over.”
Both Hublou and Schottenheimer were pulled from the water after about 10 minutes, Coffindaffer said. He said the water temperature hovered around 64 degrees. Hublou and Schottenheimer used seat cushions to stay afloat while the private citizens raced to their aid, Coffindaffer said.
Neither Hublou nor Schottenheimer was available for comment before press time Friday.
Once the pair was safely aboard, Capt. Steve Alcorn of NLTFPD, said he gave them a brief exam for medical issues to find they had none.
With the aircraft’s passengers safe, officials focused on recovering the plane.
Firefighters on the NLTFPD’s Marine 16, officers from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Tahoe City and WCSO deputies aboard Jet Skis attached buoys to the plane and Marine 16 began to pull the plane toward Ski Beach in Incline.
Alcorn, who was aboard Marine 16, said the plane started taking on more water once it was about half-mile off Burnt Cedar Beach. Coffindaffer raced back to shore to collect extra buoys in an attempt to float the plane enough for it to return to shore.
Meanwhile, a second problem was brewing. Leslie Barnes, Sheriff’s support specialist, said she received a report about 11:45 a.m. from rescuers that there was fuel and possibly oil in the water, leaking from the aircraft.
Alcorn said the fuel had spilled in a wide swath around the plane, which carries a 40-gallon tank.
Mike Pennacchio, risk management officer for the Incline Village General Improvement District, acknowledged that as a problem because IVGID’s water intake valves are positioned off Burnt Cedar Beach, around quarter-mile away from the sinking plane. For safety, the valves began shutting down at 11:45 a.m. and were completely shut down by 12:05 p.m., Pennacchio said.
Had the water been contaminated, Pennacchio said the valves would remain shut down and IVGID residents would have been notified to restrict their water use.
IVGID’s Public Works Director Joe Pomroy confirmed at about 1:30 p.m. Friday that the water was not contaminated., although the pumps remained closed into Thursday afternoon as a precaution.
Jay Schmidt, a volunteer rescuer who serves aboard the WCSO’s Marine 9, which was not on the water Thursday because of a mechanical problem, said absorbent booms were placed around the spill site. Absorbent booms are floatable devices used to soak up some of the fuel to take it away from the lake water, Schmidt said.
Shortly after the booms were placed, Alcorn said Marine 16 had to cut its tow-line to the plane loose about half-mile east of Burnt Cedar Beach. This was shortly before 1 p.m. as Marine 16 was towing the board toward the boat launch at Ski Beach.
“It was just taking on too much water and was starting to pull us under,”
Alcorn said. “The buoys just couldn’t hold it any more. So we cut it loose in about 20 to 30 feet of water and left the buoys to mark it.”
A recovery effort began again about 2:45 p.m., said fire department Assistant Fire Chief Greg McKay, as a diver placed airbags in the plane to float it while multiple recovery vessels pulled it to shore. The boats belonged to Vessel Assist Lake Tahoe, a private recovery company based in Incline Village.
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