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Because of its size and its proximity to an Air Force base and commercial airports, the Great Salt Lake has become the final resting place for a number of aircraft.

Hill Air Force Base's main flight path crosses the lake and many commercial planes also cross over the lake en route to the Salt Lake International Airport.Hill Air Force Base spokesman Len Barry said there are some remains of crashed planes that couldn't be found, but he isn't sure exactly how many. Some pieces of salvaged planes also remain in the lake.

The first recorded plane crash in the lake was Oct. 6, 1935. When the two-engine plane went down, three men died and it took four months to locate and salvage the plane. One body, found five months later, was so well-preserved by the salt that the man looked like he had died only the day before.

In April 25, 1943, a B-25 crashed in northwest portion of the lake, killing five men; and in May 1946, a student pilot died when he flew too low and crashed near Black Rock.

A B-57 crashed in the lake in April of 1971, but it was taken out of the water two months later.

A mysterious plane wreck was sighted in the lake in 1979. It was believed to be the remains of a 1975 crash but was not salvaged because it posed no environmental hazards.

Despite the shallow level of the lake, finding a downed plane is not easy. In 1982 when an F-16 crashed, the pilot ejected safely, but an anchored life raft used to mark the crash site was blown loose and drifted miles away. Sonar had to be used to assist divers, but it located underwater rock formations instead. A magnetometer couldn't find the metal plane under the lake because of the water's mineral content.

Divers found it so dark in the 28-foot-deep water that underwater lights would create only a glow in front of their masks. Divers described the bottom 10 feet of the lake as a layer of decay that nauseated them. Most of the plane was finally recovered a month after the crash.

In mid-1983, another F-16 crashed and it took two weeks to locate that wrecked plane. A light plane crashed in the lake in August of 1984, killing two men. It was never found.

The lake has also been unkind to helicopters. A 1992 Air Force crash near the causeway to Antelope Island killed 12 men. Another copter crash in September 1993 killed one man.

In 1966, a mysterious, fetid layer was found in the south arm of the lake at depths of 22 feet or more. This layer smelled like rotten eggs and was up to eight feet thick. Some believed it was material from brine flies and shrimp.

The Utah Mineralogical and Geological Survey took a 12-foot deep core of lake bed out in 1969. It had a slight sulfurous odor and was said to feel like a roll of baker's dough ready for the oven.

According to Wallace Gwynn, geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, this stinky layer at the lake's bottom mysteriously disappeared in mid-1991.

Salt Lake and Davis counties dumped raw sewage into the Great Salt Lake until the late 1950s. Some believe the sewage may still be there at the bottom of the lake in some sort of pickled state. Sewer plants today, like the North Davis Sewer District west of Syracuse, pour only clear, treated water into the lake.

Gwynn said there is some truth to that pickled sewage belief. He, for one, is glad no plan has been approved to create a fresh-water lake at Farmington Bay because he's seen what the bottom layer of Farmington Bay looks like. He describes it as a black, putrid and stinky layer.

The lake also produces an odor that sometimes travels east and plagues residents around the lake. This smell is caused by rotting and decaying algae and other organic material around Farmington Bay. Western Davis County and Weber County occasionally get a whiff.

There are some large sand bars found in the Great Salt Lake. From 1847 to 1850, a sandbar to Antelope Island was dry during the winter and covered by only 20 inches of water in the summer. The Mormon Pioneers used this sand bar to herd cattle to Antelope Island, then named Church Island. By 1865, the bar was impassible, thanks to the rising lake.

Another big sandbar lies between the causeway to Antelope Island and Fremont Island. Ghostly gate posts mark the site of this sandbar about six miles out on the west side of the causeway. If the lake level drops to 4,194 feet above sea level or below, it would be possible to walk on the sand bar in only a foot or so of water, six miles to Fremont Island.

A man-made sandbar that has only recently been visible above the lake's water again is the Spiral Jetty, near Rozel Point. This bulldozed work of art was done by Richard Smithson when the lake was low. It was covered by water in the 1980s, but its outline under the water can now be seen again.

Indians living near Rozel Point at the lake's north end, knew about seepages of oil near the lake shore and used it for medical purposes. In warm weather, this oil would form a gooey carpet of tar on the lake bottom and occasionally trap a pelican.

Amoco Oil Company drilled extensively in the lake from 1970 to 1981 because one estimate put 21 million barrels of crude oil beneath the lake. However, of its 15 wells on the south arm of the lake, five were dry. The oil found in the other wells was of poor quality and too thick - with a high sulphur content and pour point. In 1984, Amoco sold its lake lease to Utah Petrochemical Inc., which started some drilling in 1984.

Though it is not economical to drill for the lake's thick oil now, Gwynn said he understands some improved technology may make the lake bottom's oil more profitable.



Salt of the earth: Salt concentration in the Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake

1850 22.4%

1873 13.7%

1949 25.0%

The lake was divided in 1959 by an earthen railroad causeway

North end South end

1960s 26.0% 1960s 15.0%

1984 25.0% 1984 9.0%

1992 22.0% 1992 11.4%


Deep waters: Depth comparison of some western lakes

Bear Lake, Utah/Idaho 207 feet

Crater Lake, Oregon 1,930 feet

Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California 1,645 feet

Great Salt Lake 35 feet

Lake Powell, Utah 561 feet

Utah Lake, Utah 25 feet