A large crane and associated construction equipment with an estimate worth of over $700,000 lost in a violent October gale in 1981 has been discovered by a team of shipwreck explorers in Lake Ontario.
The team consisting of Jim Kennard, Dan Scoville, Roland Stevens, and Craig Hampton had been searching this summer for a lost steamer approximately 30 miles east of Niagara, and over 8 miles from shore when several large objects were detected on the bottom at a depth of nearly 500 feet. The team deployed an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the targets. It was only last week after a shipwreck colleague recalled the incident and sent Kennard an article from the October 8, 1981 Democrat & Chronicle newspaper that the story of the lost deck cargo came to light.
Work Barge Capsizes in October Gale
The work barge, Western Brave, loaded with a large crane had been working on the water intake and discharge system for the NYS Electric & Gas coal fired power plant at Somerset, New York. When a storm began to build in strength, the lake side construction on the power plant was halted and the barge with 11 people on board was towed back to Toronto to avoid being capsized by heading into the waves. As the storm grew in intensity, with winds upward of 60 miles per hour and waves of 10 to 12 feet, the tug pulling the barge could not make any headway. The US Coast Guard was contacted and a helicopter from the Canadian Forces was immediately dispatched to rescue the workers stranded on board the work barge. Within 20 minutes of their rescue the barge capsized spilling its entire deck load of construction equipment into the deep depths of Lake Ontario. The crane is believed to be a Manitowoc 4600. The equipment was owned by the Lakeshore Construction Company of Muskegon, Michigan.
A Debris Field of Construction Equipment
The ROV, piloted from the surface, landed on top of the cab of a large construction crane. Loose cables were dangling off of the crane along with jagged metal pieces protruding from the lake bottom. A short distance from the cab and crane there lay another section of crane estimated to be 75 feet in length. An overturned trailer, tanks, clam shell grab, large unidentified box, cables, and torn pieces of metal were just some of the items captured on nearly one hour of video that was collected as the ROV explored the area of the debris field. Dan Scoville did a fantastic job in maneuvering the ROV through this very hazardous environment to explore the field of construction equipment that had landed on the bottom when the barge capsized.
The barge continued to stay afloat during the storm and travelled another 25 miles east coming to rest in 30 feet of water near the Eagle Marina at Kendall, NY. A few days following the storm the Lakeshore Construction Company had the barge towed back to Toronto. The Western Brave barge still exists today.
VIDEO: Discovery of Lost Deck Cargo in Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario Shipwreck Survey
The Lake Ontaio Shipwreck Survey was funded by a grant from the Great Lakes Historical Society of Vermillion, Ohio.
Shipwreck Discovery Team
Jim Kennard has been diving and exploring the lakes in the northeast since 1970. He has found over 200 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, NY Finger Lakes and in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers over the past 35 years. Using his background as an electrical engineer, he built the side scan sonar system that located many of these shipwrecks in the past. In 1983 he discovered a unique horse powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain. National Geographic featured the ferryboat in their October 1989 issue. Several other of his shipwreck discoveries have been reported in various publications including Skin Diver, Wreck Diver, Inland Seas, and Sea Technology.
Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and technical diver. He 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. He is currently a project manager and electrical engineer for Oceaneering International and was one of the team that built the tools that fixed the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico for British Petroleum.
Roland ‘Chip’ Stevens is a retired architect and working artist whose watercolors are well known in the Rochester area, many of which have been accepted into national exhibitions. A sailor for many years, Stevens has a love of the sea, as reflected in his seascapes. A number of his paintings of shipwrecks discovered by the team have appeared in various news stories and publications.
Craig Hampton has been a certified SCUBA diver for over 40 years. He is a master Mercury Marine mechanic and owner of the Boat Doctor in Lorain Ohio. Craig has discovered several historic shipwrecks with Jim Kennard in Lake Erie.
In May 2008 the team of Kennard, Scoville, and Stevens discovered the British warship HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes, and in late September 2008 they also discovered a rare 200 year old "dagger-board" schooner, both of which received worldwide attention in the news.