SNV-2 Valiant

I made a dive on a Vultee SNV-2 Valiant aircraft on Sunday. This is one of Lake Washington’s little known aircraft wrecks. The Valiant was a basic trainer during WWII. There were some 11,000 produced between September 1939 and August 1944 to meet the training needs of the Army/Navy.

Valiant Vital Stats:
Manufacturer: Vultee
Designation: SNV-2 Valiant
Aircraft Type: Trainer
Wing Span: 42ft, 2in
Height:12ft, 5in
Length: 28ft, 9in
Top Speed: 166mph
Range: 516 miles
Empty Weight: 4360 pounds
Crew: Student pilot and instructor
Service Ceiling: 16,500ft
Engine(s): one 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 Junior Wasp radial engine

The story on this particular wreck was that the pilot came in high on an emergency landing due to engine trouble. He overshot the runway then attempted to come around again when the engine cut out entirely. This forced a water landing which ultimately left the Valiant where it remains today (60+ years later): 130ft below the surface of Lake Washington.

The wreck lies horizontally on the bottom and it is extremely fragile. As supplies of strategic metals became prioritized during WWII, later models of the SNV incorporated wooden structural elements, including plywood panel skins. This aircraft was one of those later models and the underwater environment has not been kind. It’s BF Goodwrench tires jut upwards from the fuselage, the bent propeller and engine sit nicely out in front, and the gem of the wreck, the data case, is resting just inside the torn and jagged fuselage, still clearly marked, ‘DATA CASE.’ On the wings the White Navy star is visible as well as the, ‘US NAVY’ lettering.

Included with this post are some underwater photos and a sidescan sonar image.



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Sunken Concrete Pontoon

In July we dove a new target; one I am not sure anyone has dove before.  It is a huge concrete structure at the south end of Lake Washington – we came across this structure while doing some side scan sonar work in the area.  It is approximately 200 feet long and maybe just 20 feet wide.  In all it took us about 35 minutes to swim around the entire thing.  It appears to have massive holds inside; leading us to believe this space was used for ballast and this structure is either an old floating pier or it was at one time a section of the original floating I-90 bridge.

Falcon: Underwater Images

Here are some  underwater images from the Falcon dive.  Dark grainy photos but those are the conditions we deal with 200 feet below the surface. 

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After a long break between wreck dives I was back in the water again on Saturday with friends.  

This time we were out in Lake Washington and diving the ‘Falcon’ – an early 1900’s passenger steamer that sunk in Lake Washington under unknown circumstances.  The Falcon was built in Bellingham in 1908 and used by the Island Transportation Company for service between Bellingham and Anacortes. The Falcon was sold to the Kitsap County Transportation Company in 1913 and later retired from KCTC’s service in 1919.  

How the Falcon made it to Lake Washington is unknown.  It is likely that after 1919 it was transferred to Lake Washington as part of Captain John Anderson’s passenger ferry fleet.  Around 1920 Captain Anderson (of Anderson’s Shipyard) was named superintendent of ferries by the county – he had been operating a number of passenger steamers on the lake for nearly 20 years (and would continue to do so as the I-90 Bridge was not completed until 1940).

The Falcon now sits upright on the bottom of the lake in 200 feet of water, north of Hwy 520’s floating bridge.  It is in fairly good shape, though the wheel house is missing from the structure.  This may indicate the Falcon was stripped then scuttled intentionally.  The square windows of the Falcon are still framed in nicely and the bow & stern are both intact. 

I’ve included a few photos with this entry: the first couple are the Falcon above water, the third is a 3D rendering of the Falcon today (forward cabin & pilot house missing) and the fourth is a sidescan sonar image of the wreck sitting on the bottom of the lake.  Sidescan imagery courtesy of Innerspace Exploration. 

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The Fresno

Weekend following the Al-Ind-Dusk-A-Sea dive we were back in Lake Washington for a dive on the whaling ship Fresno. 

The black/white photo included below is of the Fresno on fire in Meydenbauer Bay on April 4th, 1923.  At the time, three other whaling boats were pulled safely away from the dock and away from the burning ship after the ferry boat Leschi was unable to pull the Fresno free.  Eventually a tug succeeded in towing her out to the middle of the lake but the ship was allowed to burn as no equipment was available to extinguish the flames.  The photo is from the Collections of the Eastside Heritage Center. 

Once the flames burned themselves out the Fresno was deemed a total loss.   They filled the ship with rock and sunk her in Meydenbauer Bay where she now sits on the bottom, 180 feet below the surface.  Also included below is a sidescan sonar image of what the Fresno looks like today.  The hull of the vessel is broken apart right along the spine and rests into two distinct pieces connected at the stern.  I suspect she sunk to the bottom stern first then broke apart on impact – and that is why we see separation between the hull structures.  The rudder of the ship appears as a long thin shadow in the side scan image.  Also visible in this image are the remains of the rigging (about half way down the hull on the starboard side – the section in the top half of the photo). 

For our dive on the Fresno we dove as one team of three and one team of two.  Visibility in the shallow depths was great, which meant the very limited visibility we encountered on the bottom was expected.  We had to tie a reel into our anchor line and run cave line while touring the ship.  Running the cave line was the only way to ensure we could get back to that anchor line, our “up” line, in the limited visibility. 

We planned for a long bottom time, so we carried stage gas in an 80 cu ft tank in addition to the double 104 cu ft tanks on our back and the two 40cu ft deco bottles of 50% and 100% oxygen.  We used 18/45 (oxygen/helium %) for our stage and back gas.   

After a cold 30 minutes on the bottom we headed for home which meant another 60 minutes in decompression back to the surface.

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‘Potential New Wreck’ now named Triton or Aquilo

Have this narrowed down now to the Triton or the Aquilo.  Both were Lake Washington steamers of the early 1900’s.  There is a team of JaWS divers planning to make a dive on the wreck here in the next couple weeks.  Their objective will be to measure length, beam and draw so we can try and finalize which wreck we’re diving. 

Aquilo Launch
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Aquilo under Construction
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Triton at Dock
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Aquilo on Lake
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‘Potential New Wreck’ Now Located

Over the weekend I went out with 3 of my tech diving friends to search for the wreck mentioned below and we reprioritized the coal car exploration to another weekend.  We met early in the morning and loaded our friend’s small boat with four sets of doubles, 8 deco bottles and 4 sets of the ancillary gear that divers normally bring along. 

It was a short 1 mile trip from the dock, but when we got the boat on the coordinates for the expected target nothing was popping up like a wreck on the fish finder.  That is a predictable experience when your coordinates are converted from Loran C.  So we dropped a buoy in that location and began running circles around the buoy in an ever increasing radius type fashion.  The hope being that the coordinates are going to be within a few hundred feet of the actual target.  We spent a good twenty minutes running this search pattern and just about the time we were mentally thinking of other known targets we could dive (since we didn’t appear to be finding this wreck) a telling spike came up on the fish finder.  After running over that spot a few times to make sure we really had a wreck underneath we mutually agreed that it looked like a target in the range of 60-80 feet long with a 5-10 foot relief off the bottom.  So we repositioned our drop line on the wreck and prepared to make the dive.

Once we were all suited up and in the water we gear checked each other and then began the descent.  Almost immediately I had some ear issues; having a hard time relieving pressure in my right ear.  I fought this for awhile and almost gave up; but just as I was getting ready to let the other three go on without me, my ear cleared and enabled my decent to the wreck some 165 feet below the surface.  The visibility was great all the way down and stayed good on the bottom.  The four of us had the wreck illuminated really well with our HID lights and you could see the wreck out to distances of 20-25ft. 

The wreck was a burned out steamer, about 80 feet in length, with a narrow 9 foot beam.   Her charred hull was all that remained; with little clues as to her name.  You could tell she was painted white at one time, and that she had a big cabin deck very similar to passenger ferries like the Acme or LT Hass.  There is a strake all the way around her deck and some very basic framework still remaining. 

We spent 20 minutes on the wreck and about 25 minutes in a slow decompression ascent back to the surface using 50% oxygen from 70ft up.  With the viz being so good, we got some really good video of this one.  It’s going to be tough to identify this wreck with the limited clues; I’ll post an update here later if anything comes up as a potential candidate. 

Potential New Wreck & The Coal Cars

A few months ago when I was out conducting side scan sonar work with Innerspace Exploration, we hit an area North of 520 that had a number of wrecks within close range of one another.  

This area is generally known to the small group of local exploration divers, with the main wreck of the bunch being the YMS-359 – a US Navy Minesweeper that sits in 200ft of water and is about 135ft long.  So I didn’t think too much of the information until last week when I sat down with the data and tried to match wreck names to target locations.  As I matched coordinates to wrecks like Elfin, Urania, the previously mentioned YMS-359, Falcon, and Scout – I came up with one more set of coordinates than I had wreck names to match.

I bounced the general coordinates of this wreck off my friend Walter, who also has an extensive list of targets in the lake, and he couldn’t find a name to match either. So once again, I think we have a new target to explore…

The week of August 15th we’re going to make an exploration dive on the Coal Cars.  I have wanted to hit these submerged targets for awhile, so we’re going to make a dive on them first.  They are right up next to the 520 bridge, which can be really rough water depending on the wind conditions. 

Post dive we’ll head to the new coordinates to confirm them one more time; and see if we can locate the wreck with a basic fish finder. If we confirm the position of the wreck, we’ll make a dive on it a short time later. 

LCVP & The Dawn

Over the weekend we made the initial dives on the landing craft; we had 7 divers total including myself. Two of the divers were armed with video cameras so we shot lots of above and under water video – should make for a good DVD compilation. 

The landing craft is generally intact and it is sitting upright on the bottom with the ramp down. It appears it was scuttled on purpose rather than by accident, with a few long purposeful gashes in its side and most of the equipment removed.  Normally the LCVP would be armed with 30cal machine guns, but they were missing (only the empty turrets remain – one of them on the floor of Lake Washington next to the wreck).

If you view  the schematic in the prior entry (below) you can see what I am talking about. Fuel tanks, towing pad, ramp latch, etc.  These are the type of items that remain.  We did manage to get numbers off the wreck and are now in the process of researching them: “PA 52-22.”  If you know landing craft or have the ability to search their history I would appreciate the help with this one.


After the exploration of the landing craft we moved over to a favorite of mine, the ferry boat Dawn. This wreck also sits upright on the bottom of the lake and is generally in good shape.  It’s a spooky wreck compared to the landing craft, because you can go inside.  If you click on the photo of the Dawn that I’ve included below you can see it’s big square windows.  Imagine being deep in Lake Washington and swimming through one of those windows, the heavy steel tanks on your back barely fitting through, scraping the sides of the window as you slither in.  Now you are inside and you can see only what your light shows you in a focused beam.  It is a disconcerting feeling to know there is ceiling above you but you can’t see it unless you point your light straight up.  We entered through a window near the stern and exited out a breezeway door at the bow.  Shot some great video of this wreck as well.

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Navy Landing Craft

Got a chance to get out on the lake this past weekend with Innerspace and we picked up a scan of what we believe is a Navy landing craft.    

36ft long, 11ft wide. Depth on this one is only about 90ft.

The wave in the side scan towards the front of the boat is caused by surface waves. It was kind of choppy out there with a significant amount of boat traffic.

The other attached images are historical photos for context.

Should be fun to get out on this one; see if we can get numbers and research its history.

Probably dive it this Saturday.

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Back on the Lake

This past weekend I was back out with Innerspace; searching for unfound wrecks in Lake Washington.  We were on the water running side scan for pretty close to 8 hours straight on Sunday; looking hard for two bi-plane seaplanes that crashed in the 1920’s south of the 520 bridge.  We found a couple targets in the right area but on close review they don’t appear to be airplane parts.  We’re planning to go back and make a quick dive on one of the targets just to be sure it isn’t a wing.  During the day we did manage to pick up good scans of a few known boat and shipwrecks in the area: SL Dowell, YMS-359, The Bremerton and a burned out hull – but never came across the plane(s) we were looking for.

Avenger Documentation

Spent most of the weekend on or in the lake, working on tying together and documenting the Avenger.

Saturday morning the team of Kurt, Miranda, Walter & Mark dove with the objective of connecting the dots (I played boat driver for this one). We had previously connected the main section of fuselage to the tail (about 30 feet away) with cave line. We had a bearing and distance (85 feet) to the starboard wing, lying on the bottom. From the starboard wing, we had another bearing and distance (about 50 ft.) to two four foot sections of wreckage (status unknown). They dropped on the fuselage, tied in and ran out 90 ft. of line. Spaced themselves out on the line and swam a quick search pattern to locate the wing. Once on the wing, they repeated the process to locate the two other pieces of wreckage. It took about 25 minutes for them to locate and connect the pieces and they incurred about 30minutes of deco. So just about an hour long dive all together with a max and average bottom depth of 175ft.

Sunday morning, the team of myself, Rich, Walter & Mark returned to the site with the video camera. With all the pieces connected together we were ready to finish documenting the site. We spent a leisure 30 minutes on the bottom enjoying the site; making sure we documented everything. Once edited we’ll publish a copy of the video to the Naval Archives/Historical branch for their records.

KUOW Radio

Spoke with KUOW yesterday about diving in the lake:

Audio can be found here:

Diving in Lake Washington
John Sharps is a diver who has discovered old ferry boats, World War II aircraft and all manner of objects on the bottom of Lake Washington. He joins us to talk about his passion for diving and Pacific Northwest history as preserved in depths of up to 200 feet.

Related Links:

PV-2 Harpoon & USRC Scout

Made a couple dives in the lake on Sunday…

The first dive was on the PV-2 Harpoon – a World War II patrol bomber that was ditched after take-off in Sept 1947. It’s a great dive, the plane is stuck nose down in the mud and the tail is broken off so there is opportunity to drop down inside. 50 caliber machine guns still in the turret. Max depth was about 145ft.

The second dive was much shallower but more historic. Back when we were looking for the Avenger we found via side scan the hull of a 60ft ship lying on its side in relatively shallow water (90ft). So our second dive was on this wreck and it turned out to be a great one. 5 of us made the dive. The three man team I was on shot video and took a bow to stern measurement. The second two man team took beam and draft measurements. On the bow of the ship you can still just barely read what we collectively thought was the name, ‘SCOUT.’

Researching vessels by that name later that evening and comparing notes to our length and beam measurements we were able to match Scout to an early 1900’s era Coast Guard Revenue Cutter. One of the first that was gasoline powered. It was based in Port Townsend, WA where its primary purposes were to thwart illegal immigration and opium trade. In 1915 it was transferred via private sale to Puget Sound. Other than that the rest of its history above water remains a mystery.


I spent the holiday week taking tech2 with Andrew Georgitsis of GUE and 5th D-X.  I made it through the class successfully but I’ll tell you it was a grueling week – both emotionally and physically.  I intended to post a daily blog on the class but that proved too difficult with both class activities and the pending holiday.  Our check-out dive was on the YMS-359 (Minesweeper) in Lake Washington.  Depth is/was 200ft.