Lake Washington is rich in history. The cold water preserves wrecks, but also makes them inaccessible to most. Typically, experts in archaeology and history are not technical divers, so the underwater artifacts are out of their reach. Photogrammetry allows us to make 3D models of these wrecks, bringing history to the surface and making the past more real for everyone.
S. L. Dowell (1899)
Originally built as the Griffin at Friday Harbor in 1899, the S.L. Dowell is a 45ft long wooden tug. After 23 years in service and a refit, the boat struck an obstruction near Mercer Island in 1922 and sank quickly.
George Wahl (skipper) and William Holslar (engineer) jumped from the sinking boat to the scow that the tug was towing at the time, escaping their fate in the chilly waters of Lake Washington. No lives were lost in the sinking of the tug.
Today, the tug lays in just under 200ft/60m of freshwater and is easily accessible to technical divers. The ship’s name is painted on the stern and is still legible and careful divers can peek their head inside the wheelhouse and see the ship’s wheel and several pieces of wood furniture.
The 2021 version of the 3D model of this wreck was created over the course of three dives to update a model originally created in 2016.
PB4Y-2 BuNo 59695 (1956)
The PB4Y is a four engine bomber that crashed on August 26, 1956 and came to rest at the bottom of Lake Washington. The plane was on a training flight, and the pilot did not configure the bomber correctly for the takeoff.
Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The official accident report describes a semi-successful recovery attempt. US Navy personell were able to bring the plane to the surface; however, portions of the planes structure gave way and caused it to sink a second time. Today, it rests in about 150ft/45m of water off of Magnusson Park (formerly NAS Seattle).
This wreck was captured by a team of GUE Seattle divers over the course of six diving days. 100% of the costs of the project were covered by the team.
Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon BuNo 37528 (1947)
On September 4, 1947, a routine training flight ended with a splash. After checking controls and taxiing to the runway, pilot Ensign Richard Donelson and co-pilot Lieutenant Raymond Soelter began their takeoff run. Eyewitnesses would later report the airplane achieved takeoff speed.
However, just after gaining a few feet of altitude, the plane came crashing back down with landing gear extended. According to witnesses, the plane skipped three times before sinking rapidly. Both the pilot and co-pilot escaped to safety. The plane sunk rapidly and came to rest vertically with its nose in the sediment, like a lawn dart. Sometime between approximately 2000 and 2010, the tail came free and now rests beside the fuselage of the plane.
J. E. Boyden (1888)
The JE Boyden was built in 1888 in North Seattle to serve as a tug for sailing ships navigating the Puget Sound. She helped sailing ships navigate challenging waterways and keep to their shipping schedules, even when the wind wouldn’t cooperate. Serving for just under 50 years, the work of this tug and her crew helped cement Seattle’s place as a global port.
Today, the JE Boyden rests in 40ft/12m of water in South Lake Union, having been scuttled in 1935 with her superstructure removed. While the JE Boyden is relatively shallow and accessible, special permission is required to dive her, as the tug rests beneath Kenmore Air’s seaplane landing strip.
For more information, see GUE’s Quest Magazine, Volume 12, No 3.
Warren Car (June 2020 Model)
A model of the wreck of the Warren car in Lake Crescent, WA. This is a new capture of one of the first targets we made within GUE Seattle. We’re hoping to compare the state of the car now and four years ago. Images of the wreck were taken on a single dive on June 27, 2020.
Lake Washington Coal Cars
At 190 feet and dating to the mid 1870s, the coal cars are one of the oldest wrecks in Lake Washington. The model shows three cars, each extremely well preserved, one of which is mostly immersed in silt. These cars are stacked with coal from when they were originially loaded nearly 150 years ago. More carts lay nearby, accessable via a line trail that guides divers from one cluster to the next.
Bayview (ID) Mystery Wreck
This wreck sits in ~50ffw in Scenic Bay, Lake Pend Orielle. Our theory is that it was intentionally scuttled, probably by fire. The stern may have sunk first, crushing the rudder and propeller, leaving the ship resting upright to allow the bow to burn completely.
Trestle Creek - Shallow Car
In December of 1917, a rock slide between Hope and Sandpoint caused a Northern Pacific engine and 12 freight cars to leave the tracks. The Northern Idaho News reported that 2 cars “left the railroad grade and plunged to the lake bottom several feet below.” No fatalities were reported.
Brian Slater and Dan McMath, with support from GUE Seattle and Jake’s Scuba Adventures (Coeur d’Alene), created a 3D model of the first of the cars. This one rests “several feet” down from the railroad grade and is in shockingly good condition, given that it fell 100 feet into a lake more than 100 years ago. The second car, which is ~20ft farther down the slope, is in much better condition; the team hopes to return to model the entire site.
Thanks to Pend Orielle Historical Society for their excellent online archive of newspapers which provided the details of this event.
Some have wondered as to the conditions of the lake, what visibility is like, and what divers actually see while gathering data to produce models. Below is a selection of images submitted by GUE Seattle divers to share their experiences in The One True Lake.