A Lake Havasu-based recovery company exhumed the twisted remains of a helicopter from the watery tomb of Roosevelt Lake Monday, weeks after it crashed into the lake nearly killing three people on board.
All survived the violent water landing, but the original search teams concluded the silty lake bottom had sucked up the helicopter, never to be seen again.
Jon Zuccala, owner of Dive Time Recovery, and his crew picked up the search that divers had abandoned after several failed attempts.
After a little more than an hour of searching Monday with eyewitnesses’ help, Zuccala pinpointed the remains of the helicopter on the lake’s bottom and successfully removed nearly all of the 1,500-pound copter.
Zuccala said he is thrilled the dive went so well, especially since the engine was still leaking oil and gas into lake.
Zuccala explained that when he heard a sightseeing helicopter had crashed into the lake Dec. 7, he immediately offered his recovery services.
Just two months before, he had successfully hauled a helicopter out of Lake Havasu.
Zuccala’s offers, however, were ignored.
The tour company that leased the copter, Sky Blue Helicopters out of Scottsdale, did not return calls seeking information. Zuccala later determined Sky Blue had filed for bankruptcy after the crash, shutting down its Web site and phone lines.
When Zuccala heard the search for the wreckage was abandoned, he decided to give it a go.
Zuccala said he was confident he could find the wreck and found the challenge exciting — sort of like finding buried treasure.
He contacted Payson’s Tom Brown who had witnessed the crash from his fishing boat with his wife Charlene. The couple had helped pull survivors from the water and left a buoy to indicate where the wreck was.
Charlene wrote that Zuccala was the first person to ask them to show where the copter had gone down.
“We got lots of phone calls for directions and even though (Tom) volunteered to meet them, no one but this company took him up on it,” she said. “So happy it is out of the lake.”
With Tom’s guidance, Zuccala went to the approximate location in the lake and used sonar to pinpoint the wreckage within half an hour.
Even though the Browns’ buoy was gone, Tom got Zuccala within 25 feet of the remains.
The engine and hull sat 60 feet underwater. The next challenge was getting them out.
Zuccala started his dive to the bottom. Within 20 feet, the lake grew completely dark, his flashlight illumining one foot in front of him.
He swept his hand along the bottom, creating a cloud of silt.
Eventually, he felt the tail section, the engine and fuselage. Using airbags, he floated the pieces to the top. He put an environmental boom around the engine to contain what contaminants he could.
He could not locate the copter’s skids or rotors. By 4 p.m., his five-man crew and two boats were out of the water, the remains loaded onto a flat bed.
He has since contacted the FAA and the copter’s owner.
Zuccala believes earlier divers failed because they were looking in the wrong spot.