BOX ELDER COUNTY, Utah, Jan. 13, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — Officials say divers have recovered the bodies of missing pilot Denny Mansell and passenger Peter Ellis from a small plane submerged beneath 20 feet of water in the Great Salt Lake in Box Elder County.
Mansell, 71, and Ellis, 74, went missing on the afternoon of Dec. 29 after leaving the Ogden-Hinckley Airport on a trip to Promontory to visit a railroad museum.
It was intended to be a short jaunt, officials said, but a search began when the men did not return.
Searchers using sonar believed they found the plane a little more than a week ago, but a winter storm made recovery impossible.
Divers from Box Elder and Weber counties did a pre-dive to determine conditions, and found that the plane, a red and white Cessna 172, was at least four feet deeper than previously believed.
Dive teams returned Saturday at 7:30 a.m., and after setting up and taking all possible safety precautions, began their dive at 11 a.m., said Dale Ward, chief deputy, Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office.
“The operation was completed by 11:30, and we were able to recover Mr. Mansell and Mr. Ellis,” Ward said.
The weather delay gave divers an important chance to prepare, he said. Weber divers were able to go to the Ogden-Hinckley Airport and find a similar plane, and familiarize themselves with the design, including how to find and open door handles and release seat belts.
“They also practiced, because they knew they were going to be blind on this dive,” Ward said. “Everything was going to be done by feel.”
In addition, divers had to use weights equaling nearly double their body weights to descend, because of the buoyancy of the salty water, Ward said.
The plane remains relatively intact in the water, but Ward said divers were unable to verify the plane’s tail number due to the water’s murkiness.
“That’s obviously an issue,” he said.
Ward said that besides numerous agencies and hundreds of volunteers who participated in the search, members of the Utah flying community donated an untold number of flight hours to the search.
“The friendship runs very deep there,” Ward said. “These two men were members of the flying club over at Ogden-Hinckley. It’s really not any different from any organization. You lose a longtime member of that organization, and you’re going to do what you have to do to find them.”