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Falling lake reveals sunken boat

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – Local diver Cris Bezinque calls it “an excellent little mystery.” A motorboat, with a waterski rope attached, has been revealed by the slowly dropping waters of Dillon Reservoir.

There are no reports on the accident, and as far as investigators can determine, no bodies. And had the lake not fallen to its current levels, it might never have been found.

Sailor Kent Robinson found and reported the first clue to the missing boat, which he noticed when he sailed out to the starting line for the Dillon Open on the morning of Aug. 4.

The handle was floating on the surface of Lake Dillon, the attached rope disappearing from sight in the murky depths of the water. Robinson said his report first was met with disbelief, because a boat had never been reported down in that location.

“The water was like glass,” he said. “The waterski handle was just barely visible. I knew exactly what it was. When it won’t pull up right away, you know a boat is at the other end.”

But when a sheriff’s deputy attached the rope to the back of the sheriff’s marina boat, the rope still refused to give.

Bezinque is one of the few who’s seen the craft. A team leader with Summit County Water Rescue, he dove the wreckage and now is working with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to solve the mystery.

Last weekend, Bezinque and fellow diver Don Johnson took an underwater camera down 48 feet to where the boat rests.

“Visibility was pretty bad,” Bezinque said. “We did a tactile search, where you go feeling through the mud. To ensure there was nobody inside the cockpit, it was a matter of feeling around inside the cockpit to see if you could find anything or anybody.”

He did not feel any bodies.

Bezinque estimates the boat is a 16-foot-long fiberglass motorboat, and so far he hasn’t found any make or model identification. He does, however, have a boat registration number the state parks and recreation department is trying to match to an owner.

“The boat’s been down there for quite a while,” Bezinque said. “It has 2/3 inches of sediment on it. It’s an old one; the last registration is 1983.”

If not for the drought, it would still be a watery unknown.

“Typically, that boat would be in 90 to 100 feet of water,” he said. “And because of the altitude up here, we can’t safely dive beyond 80 feet.”

Bezinque doesn’t think it’s the last surprise Dillon Reservoir will reveal.

“We’re going to see more wrecks showing up soon,” he said. “We’re going to go out and look for the sailboat on the Blue River arm. There’s a couple more that there’s word of.

“But this is a totally unknown one. That’s why we’re so interested in it.”

A sailboat sank in 1985 near Farmer’s Korner. Two men drowned in the storm that tipped that boat. Bezinque said another boat is rumored to be down somewhere between the Dillon Amphitheatre and the dam. (See related story, below.)

“I know there are snowmobiles that have fallen through the ice and were never recovered,” said Sheriff Joe Morales. “I think there’s more stuff out there we’re probably not aware of. Unfortunately, more interesting things might pop up.”

Denver Water officials aren’t too concerned about the craft. They’re also not eager to remove it.

“It’s been sitting there for years,” said Kevin Keefe, superintendent of source of supply. “It hasn’t caused us any problems, so from our perspective, we don’t see it as an issue.”

Local officials don’t yet know what they’ll do with the sunken motorboat. If it could be moved to shallower water, where decompression is not an issue for divers, Bezinque said it would make a good training dive for the rescue team. The cost to move it, however, could be prohibitive.

“This was a pleasant surprise because it lets us practice our underwater investigation skills,” he said. “It also gives us something to look at besides rocks and mud. And if you like mysteries, this is right down your alley.”

Rescuers plan to search boat

SUMMIT COUNTY – In June of 1985, four Summit County residents set out on an sunny afternoon sail that ended in tragedy.

The sailboat tipped in a sudden burst of wind, throwing all four people into the water. A man and a woman survived. Two other men, along with the sailboat, disappeared that day under the surface of Dillon Reservoir. The boat and the two men who drowned were never found.

Local divers just might change that. Summit County Water Rescue members tentatively plan to search for the boat late this month. They do not expect to find the remains of the men.

“It’s hard to find anything underwater, even with sonar,” Local diver Cris Bezinque said. “But as the lake continues to go down, it will make it easier for us because we don’t have as much area to cover.”

Finding the sailboat, which sunk near Farmer’s Korner, he said, will be challenge enough.

“The men supposedly started swimming from boat to shore, so they’re a smaller target to locate,” Bezinque said, adding he doesn’t see a benefit to locating the bodies.

“If we do find the remains and bring them back up, it opens old wounds,” he said. “Sometimes it brings closure, but after all this time, that’s already there.”


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