Mystery of long-lost plane may be solved as lake shrinks in drought

A severe drought in California could have provided the solution to a mystery over half a century old.

On New Year’s Day 1965 a Piper Comanche 250 flown by local motel owner Ford Marshall collided with another aircraft over Folsom Lake in northern California.

The plane crashed into the murky waters of the lake, and while Marshall’s body was later found floating on the surface, the aircraft itself – and the three passengers; Marshall’s brother James, 51; secretary Helen Gotcher, 49; and high school football star Glen Emick, 15, were never found.

In 1965, the Folsom Telegraph wrote that drivers were "going down in the murky water 80 to 100 feet and working strictly by feel" and after a long search in deteriorating weather, the search was abandoned.

But in the past few weeks, Seafloor Systems, a company that provides sonar scanning for hydrography projects, was testing some new equipment at Folsom Lake.

With water lowest at their lowest in many years, technicians Tyler Atkinson and Jeff Riley were probing some of the lake’s deepest recesses.

And at the deepest point, they seem to have found a plane.

"We could see the fuselage here, we could see the right wing. We could see the tail," Josh Tamplin, the company’s CEO, told KRON-4 TV.

Now with the new information available, there are calls to retrieve the wrecked plane from its watery grave.

"When someone dies, it’s important for them to be laid to rest in a dignified manner – not be at the bottom of a lake," said El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Dan Johnson.

However, he added, as the lake shrinks the remaining water becomes siltier and siltier.

"There’s going to be more accumulation of silt as the water drops," he said.

"It’s all going to drop down to the deepest points."

Folsom Lake's water level is currently at 38% of normal capacity as a result of a severe drought across the state.

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 of the state's 58 counties, including the three counties that surround the lake.

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