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Crew recovers plane from lake

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Divers on Tuesday recovered the airplane that dumped Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner into Lake Powell after finding it largely in one piece, standing on its nose at a depth of 115 feet.

A salvage crew used a winch to haul the small high-performance plane from the bottom of a remote bay along the 186-mile-long reservoir that straddles Utah and Arizona.

The National Park Service, concerned about pollution from oil and gas, ordered the removal, which will be paid for by the pilot's insurer.

"The landing gear was torn off, but the fuselage is hardly damaged at all," salvage contractor James L. Cross said by satellite phone at Good Hope Bay.

"They had to have hit at a shallow trajectory, like a stone skipping across the lake. The plane is in remarkable shape," said Cross, owner of American Fork-based Marine Projects Consulting Co. and Cross International Search and Recovery.

Cross was towing the plane behind his catamaran 28 miles to the nearest boat launch at Hall's Crossing, a four-hour trip.

The Cirrus SR22 has a rocket-propelled emergency parachute that divers worried could have opened at 200 mph. They managed to disable it before the plane was lifted out of the water.

Gardner was in his hometown of Afton, Wyo., preparing for the funeral of his father, who died Sunday of several medical problems, said Danielle Marquis, the Olympian's publicity agent. She said his mother was in a hospital with spinal meningitis.

The Feb. 24 crash stranded Gardner, 35, and two other men on a remote shoreline.

The pilot, Randy Brooks, was flying low over Lake Powell when the plane suddenly dipped and clipped the water's surface. It came to an abrupt stop and began sinking.

The three survived the crash with only bumps and bruises and managed to swim more than an hour in 44-degree water. After a night without fire or shelter, they flagged down a fisherman on a boat the next morning.

Gardner captured a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Two years later, he was stranded for a night by his snowmobile in subzero temperatures in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, about 15 miles from Afton.

He slipped into an icy creek several times, and his body temperature fell to 88 degrees. Gardner lost a toe to frostbite but survived.

Then, two years later, he survived a serious motorcycle accident, also in Wyoming.

Only a handful of divers in Utah are qualified to work in water 115 feet deep, where they risk deadly decompression dangers after just 20 minutes. And spring runoff turned Lake Powell muddy, reducing visibility.