Piper Aero Star - N717SB - Seneca Lake
Found by: Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein
Location: Seneca Lake, Lodi
Seneca Lake, NY - Pilot Alexander Gray experienced engine problems while flying over Cayuga Lake in October 2007. Unsure if he could make it to the closest FAA published airfield at Penn Yan, NY, Alex made a crash landing on Seneca Lake where his plane was lost in deep water. Dan Scoville of Rochester, NY and Chris Koberstein of Hudson, Quebec located the airplane on the bottom of Seneca Lake in early August this year using Scoville’s high tech side scan sonar.
Alex left Toronto Canada on the morning of October 28th 2007 in his 1980 Piper Aerostar 601P-700 twin engine aircraft. After stopping for fuel in Rochester, NY he took off and headed towards his home town of Reading Connecticut. Shortly after reaching a cruising altitude of 5000 feet he reported that both engines started surging. He immediately turned the plane towards the Penn Yan airport and descended to about 1500 feet to get below the clouds. The engines continued to run rough and Alex did not think he would be able to keep the plane in the air long enough to make a safe landing at the airport. At this point he was flying over Seneca Lake and made the difficult choice to ditch the plane in the water being concerned that the 80 gallons of fuel he was caring would ignite during a crash landing on land off the airport. Unfamiliar with the depths of Seneca Lake, Alex feared that if he ditched the plane near shore he may hit some rocks just below the surface. Instead he headed for the center of Seneca Lake where depths can range beyond 600ft and prepared to land. To reduce the possibility of flipping the aircraft over upon contact with the water at high speed, Alex left the landing gear retracted during the landing. It is common for planes to flip over when landing on water if the landing gear is deployed as it would be for a normal airport landing.
Landing in Seneca Lake
After landing on the water the plane came to a stop and floated on the surface for about 15 minutes. Alex was uninjured during the landing and immediately started to extract himself from the aircraft. During the descent Alex had put on a life jacket from under the seat as each chair in the aircraft was equipped with one. After the ditching he walked to the back of the Piper Aerostar where he had an emergency raft which he often stored under the back bench, he popped open the emergency window and threw the raft onto the right wing. He then climbed out of the plane, walked out onto the wing and pulled the raft’s emergency handle to initiate the inflation sequence. The lake was very rough that day and as he floated in the raft he looked back to see his plane sinking out of site. The last thing to go underwater was the planes nose as it made its final dive to the bottom of Seneca Lake.
Piper Aerostar 601P aircraft
The Piper Aerostar 601P was a popular aircraft in the 80s and 90s. It had two turbo charged Lycoming engines and, in the case of the 700 conversion a boasted 350 hp per side. Weighing just over 6300lbs it was a fast and exiting airplane to fly. The average 601P sells for around $150,000 depending on the avionics equipment installed, the many modifications available and the general condition and maintenance history. In recent years the 601P has fallen out of popularity due to its high fuel costs and the skill required to pilot the aircraft compared with other comparable pressurized twin aircraft.
While descending and preparing to land, Alex was in constant radio contact with the air traffic control tower at the Elmira Airport. During this time he relayed information about the Piper Aerostar's condition and his general location. The air traffic controllers sent out an emergency call to police and fire departments on the lake in the area of the accident site.
Local volunteer firefighters Roger McKamey, Jared Webster, and James Kellogg were near the lake at that time pulling out Roger’s boat for the season. After receiving the emergency call the three men launched the boat and started searching the waves for the lost pilot. After about a half hour of searching the firefighters located Alexander floating in his raft and took him to shore.
After locating the plane in Seneca Lake with side scan sonar Dan and Chris returned to the lake to film the plane with Dan’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV.) The ROV was deployed over the side of the boat and a few minutes later it was sending live images of the plane back to the surface. Dan maneuvered the ROV around the plane capturing about 30 minutes of underwater video deep beneath the lake’s surface. The video clearly shows Alex’s airplane on the bottom of the lake. The plane is in good condition and largely intact considering what it has been through.
Future of Sunken Aircraft Unknown
The question of what will happen to the plane now that it has been found has yet to be answered. The plane is currently owned by an insurance company that will determine if it is in their best interest to leave it where it is or remove it from the lake.
Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and "technical" diver who utilizes custom gas mixtures of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen to dive to depths of over 300 feet. In 2005, Dan led the development of an Underwater Remote Operated Vehicle with a team of college seniors from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Since then he has used his ROV to explore shipwrecks in Lake Ontario. He is currently the project manager and electrical engineer for the Remote Operated Vehicle product line at Hydroacoustics Inc.
Chris Koberstein is an experienced cave, "technical" and rebreather diver. Chris uses sophisticated rebreather diving equipment to explore depths to over 300 feet. He provided key knowledge of aircraft and technical support for the search and survey. Chris works as an aircraft maintenance technician with Air Canada in Montreal.
Dan’s ROV was used to capture the video of the plane at the bottom of Seneca Lake. The ROV was originally developed by a team of engineering students at RIT lead by Scoville. After successful completion of the project the ROV design was purchased by Hydroacoustics Inc in Rochester, NY. Over the past year the Hydroacoustics Team has built the ROV into a commercial product. For more information on the ROV contact Hydroacoustics Inc.
Dan Scoville - Email: Tel. 585-261-3793
Chris Koberstein - Email: