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California's drought has surfaced a plane at the bottom of a lake. It could solve the mystery of a 1965 crash.

Western U.S. faces early drought
Western U.S. faces early drought 09:30

Editor's Note: Authorities announced Wednesday, June 16, that the wreckage is from an airplane that crashed in 1986 and not the aircraft that disappeared into the water in 1965.


California is suffering from a severe drought that is drying out lakes across the state. As water levels decline, officials have discovered the remains of what they believe to be a 1965 plane crash — potentially solving a decades-old aviation mystery.

Workers testing underwater sonar technology in Folsom Lake near Sacramento recently discovered a fully intact plane at the bottom of the lake, and it matches the description of a missing plane, the Piper Comanche 250.

"I saw something that was not normal," Tyler Atkinson, one of the workers, told CBS Sacramento.

The underwater surveying company the men work for, Seafloor Systems, was able to take clear images of the plane's tail and propeller because of the lake's low water level. 

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Seafloor Systems workers believe they have discovered the remains of a 1965 plane crash in Folsom Lake. KOVR

"He sees something on the bottom that looks man-made, and that's when we say, 'There's definitely something down there,' and maybe it's the plane," said President of Seafloor Systems John Timplin.

The New Year's Day crash following a mid-air collision with another plane 56 years ago killed all four people on board. The body of the pilot was recovered, but the bodies of the three passengers were never found, despite searches as recently as 2014.

Frank Wilcox, the brother of one of the victims, never stopped looking for the plane or his brother's remains. Wilcox died two years ago, having never been successful in his search, his son told CBS Sacramento. 

Parts Of Bay Area Suddenly In Very Worst Drought Category
People on Folsom Lake during a severe drought in Granite Bay, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.  David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Placer County Sheriff's Office will need to determine whether the plane can be recovered, but no investigation is currently underway, CBS Sacramento reports.

A dangerous heat wave is plaguing much of the western U.S. this week, following the worst drought across the region in modern history. Death Valley is forecast to reach or exceed 127 degrees Fahrenheit four days this week.

Right now, a record-shattering 27% of the West is categorized as experiencing an "exceptional drought" — the highest category. The 20-year record since 2000 was only 11%.

And it's not a coincidence, it's climate change. Since 1970, average temperatures in the West have increased by 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, fueling more extreme heat waves. And excess heat means more intense droughts.

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