Last Tuesday, Sparks City Councilman Donald Abbott and Sierra Dive Manager Ryder Miller dove down into the water in the Sparks Marina to re-secure a buoy that helps mark the F-4 Phantom Jet.
The F-4 was built in 1964 and used in the Vietnam War before crashing in 1988. The Phantom is 63-feet long and six feet tall. Tropical Penguin Scuba acquired the plane with the intention to place it in Sparks Marina. The Phantom was lowered about 45 feet down into the Marina in July 2001 so that divers could enjoy some underwater exploration during the time when the City was considering turning the open-water lake into a diving park.
“We’ve been involved with the Sparks Marina since its inception, when a former city councilman had a passion for diving. It didn’t really turn into a diving park because there were other interests such as fishing that are more profitable, but divers are still welcome to go there,” says Sierra Diving Center Owner Keith Chesnut.
Another reason that Sparks Marina never really became the place for diving is that there is very limited visibility after you get a couple feet down past the water’s surface. While it’s a novel thing for divers to explore in the Sparks Marina, it is practically pitch dark as you get farther down in the water. Divers originally found it by following a cable attached to the plane and the buoy floating on the water’s surface and even as they followed the cable down sometimes didn’t know if they were close until they hit it.
“It’s like going into a dark room with very limited light,” says Sierra Diving Center Manager Ryder Miller of finding the jet. There was a buoy in place with a chain to secure it, but then the chain corroded and the buoy drifted away. Miller was still able to take divers to the approximate location of the plane, but the buoy made it really easy to find.
“I took about 10-12 people out there over the last few months, I had the triangulation down but we had a better chance to see it when the buoy was in place,” he says.
“A point of reference is so that divers can descend right into the object they want to see,” Chesnut says. “It’s novel to be able to see a F-4 aircraft body- not a lot of people have access to that- let alone be able to dive it. It creates something for divers to see, it’s unique and people from all over the West Coast come to see it,” he adds.
People who like to dive are usually adventure-driven, looking for aquatic life, shipwrecks, or wanting to learn more about certain bodies of water.
“Lake Tahoe is a huge attraction, but divers with more experience are often looking for new, unique experiences and that’s where places like the Sparks Marina appeals to them,” Chesnut says.
Since the City of Sparks has always been supportive of diving endeavors in the Marina and Councilman Donald Abbott took diving classes at Sierra Diving last summer, last Tuesday presented an ideal opportunity to reinstall the buoy.
“We dropped down into the water for about 10 minutes, but couldn’t find it,” Miller says. “We went a second time and found it in three minutes, we ran right into it. Once we reattached the chain, Donald and I went down a third time and he took video.”
“Kudos to the City and councilman in helping to promote and continue to offer this opportunity to divers. It’s really a unique thing and maybe the interest wasn’t there, but the support from the City definitely was,” Chesnut says.