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Dive the F-4 Phantom in Sparks Marina!
Tropical Penguin Scuba was a major contributor in placing the F-4 Phantom in the Sparks Marina for divers to see. The Phantom sits at roughly 60 feet. Sparks Marina is very dark, and diving the Phantom will require lights and some skill. It's an exhilarating dive for those who are seeking a little adventure!
PICTURES WILL BE COMING VERY SOON!!!
It sits under 50 feet of water in the Sparks Marina. Those whoíve ventured down to see it say it sneaks up on you, appearing suddenly out of the green gloom, or knocking you on the kneecap before youíve seen itís there.
Itís the F-4 Phantom, a 63-foot long, 6-foot high fighter jet which crews dropped into the depths of the Sparks Marina on the 4th of July 2000. Since then, itís become one of the top attractions for scuba divers living in or visiting the area.
ďItís very cool, actually,Ē said one local diver after visiting the plane. ďItís a real popular location.Ē
Tied to an orange buoy about 100 yards off the south side of the peninsula, the plane is easy to locate, even for inexperienced divers.
But seeing the plane, many say, is tougher than you might expect. The algae thriving in the Marinaís nutrient rich waters keep visibility anywhere from 15 feet to a scant two feet, but has been improving. Diving on the F-4 can be a challenging when the visibility is low.
ďThere are times when Iíve followed that cable down, and I donít see the plane until my knees hit it,Ē said Amadeo Flores, a 40-year-old Reno resident and retired police detective. ď(But) itís got some potential for just excitement because itís challenging. More challenging that just going to (Lake Tahoeís) Sand Harbor. You want to experience some things and challenge yourself a little bit.Ē
The plane, built in 1964, flew missions in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The F-4 arrived in Reno in 1975, and became part of the Nevada Air National Guardís fleet until a 1988 crash landing, which damaged it beyond repair.
Sparks resident, and owner of Tropical Penguin Scuba, Kevin Schwartz acquired the plane in 2000, with the intention of starting a scuba park at the Sparks Marina ó the only lake in the Truckee Meadows appropriate for open water scuba diving.
ďAs divers we wanted someplace close to dive around here that would be kind of fun, and I thought an airplane at the bottom of a local body of water would be fun, Itís not something normally found on the bottom of a lake.Ē Schwartz said.
Originally, Schwartz planned to drop the plane in the Marina in September but agreed to postpone the event to coincide with the first Star Spangled Sparks celebration in July 2001, when the plane was lowered into the water with an Nevada Amy National Guard Chinook helicopter.
ďPeople stopped dead on the freeway to watch,Ē said Schwartz, who spent three years and roughly $10,000 acquiring, cleaning and transporting the plane. ďTo me it was extremely worth it. I think that from the standpoint of the diverís community itís just been very valuable. It creates something to talk about and dive on. Itís amazing to me to this day, Iíll be talking to someone who isnít even a diver at the grocery store or at the bank and they find out Iím a diver and theyíll ask if Iíve ever dove the F-4. Itís been tremendous!Ē
Hans Baumann, a diver from Truckee, said for him, the F-4 has a mysterious, magnetic quality.
ďItís hard to really explain other than that, Iíve done over 50 dives in the Marina now over the last year and a half,Ē said the 39-year-old truck driver. ďIíll take people out there at any time when Iím available to do it. I keep going back to it. To me, itís a challenge.Ē
The challenge, most divers agree, is tied to the low visibility. Visibility in the Marina is actually quite typical for the area.
The F-4 Phantom dive has been described as a slow process of exploration.
One diver says itís kind of eerie, initially. As you approach the plane, you can begin to make out the shadow and the shape. And once youíre down on the airplane, you stay relatively close to it and you just swim around and explore.
Schwartz had bars installed over it so divers canít climb in the cockpit, but you can still see all the controls inside. As you swim underneath it you can see all the landing gear. And you can swim in the engine bay on the back end. Itís got enough room in there for one to two divers.
Itís not necessarily poor visibility by mountain lake diving standards. When you talk about high mountain lakes, typical visibility would be between 5 and 15 feet, and thatís pretty much what is seen out at the Sparks Marina.
Nonetheless, Sparks parks officials have been busy trying to improve the Marinaís clarity the last few years and are achieving some success, spraying the water with Enviro-Culture ó a safe, organic bacteria designed to eat bird feces, algae, and other organic matter that clouds the water.
ďYou lessen the algae growth, you improve the water clarity, and it increases the dissolved oxygen in the water which makes it a much better environment for fish,Ē said Brian Bessette, operations superintendent for the Parks and Recreation Department.
ďIíll tell you, weíve already had people saying the water is much clearer,Ē Bessette said. Tests by park officials show the substance has already drastically reduced organisms in the lake, which was already quite clean by most standards.
Schwartz said if the Marina clears up enough, he plans to acquire additional items to possibly submerge in the lake and establish a local dive park. Items that have been discussed include a school bus, a sailboat, and a railcar, which seems an ideal addition as Sparks has the nickname of the ďRail CityĒ.