LAKE OF THE OZARKS — On a Lake this big and this popular, strange things sometimes end up at the bottom.
The man who likely knows the most about that is Captain Tim McNitt. McNitt has spent over 30 years swimming into danger and adventure from the Mississippi River to Lake of the Ozarks.
He runs Atlantis Dive & Dock Salvage on Lake of the Ozarks, but he explores deep waters as far away as Kansas, Tennessee, and Illinois. When something expensive sinks, McNitt dons his dive gear and jumps in the water. But no dive is routine, especially when recovery involves large, heavy objects. McNitt has recovered his share of these.
There was the bulldozer that sank in the Lake.
It was under 60 feet of water at Lake of the Ozarks, perched on a ledge, with another 35 foot drop to the bottom.
McNitt typically uses airbags to lift large sunken items. A few airbags will lift most boats right back up to the surface: he dives down, strategically places the (deflated) airbags, and then inflates them from the surface. But it was trickier with the dozer. Placing the bags on it and starting to fill them with air could have tipped it off the ledge it was sitting on, sending the incredibly heavy piece of equipment 35 feet deeper into the Lake. That made recovery much more difficult.
Even after getting it to the surface, the hardest part of the job was still ahead of him. The number of airbags required to lift an object that large creates serious problems for the tow boat that has to drag it to shore. McNitt towed the floating bulldozer for about two miles at a max speed of one mile per hour.
Once ashore, a massive crane lifted the dozer out of the Lake.
Then there was the houseboat.
The 56-foot 1968 Carri Craft was a fixer-upper, and it sat at the owners' dock on the 4 Mile Marker of the Niangua Arm. But the years slipped by, and the renovation never happened.
One day, the boat suddenly vanished. It had sprung a leak, and was now sitting on the lake floor.
Crews from Atlantis Dive & Dock Salvage and Lake Tow utilized airbags to float the gargantuan boat, and towed it to a nearby ramp, where two wreckers pulled it to shore.
One of the most challenging recoveries McNitt has ever made was an 80-foot dredge that sank in a Kansas pit where it was in use as a massive work platform to remove silt or other material from the bottom of a river, pit, or channel. From the platform, buckets or drag lines as well as powerful pumps and suction hoses pull the mud from the bottom. To raise something this heavy requires an enormous amount of expertise and equipment.
McNitt was called in to raise the vessel by applying enough buoyancy to the sunken craft that it would rise to the surface and then be removed from the water. Forty-seven large rubber bags pumped full of air once underwater were attached to the sunken object. Each bag was designed to lift 6,000 pounds and cost more than $1,000. So, it took an estimated $50,000 worth of bags before the dredge rose to the surface.
McNitt says the amount of specialized equipment a salvage or commercial diver must acquire through a commercial career is huge. McNitt’s supply requires its own warehouse, but allows him to do anything needed to meet the demands of a job. He has equipment for hard hat dives, scuba dives, underwater structure inspection, and underwater welding and cutting as well as lifting capacity for even the most unwieldy and massive objects. The equipment in addition to the different skills learned from each dive means the dive jobs can become more technically difficult and more dangerous over time.
Tim explains that the helicopters and single engine planes he has recovered are very lightweight. They are, after all, meant to fly. When he raises a boat, it wants to float; it’s designed to float.
But things like dredges and bulldozers do not want to float: they are big and heavy with iron parts that would prefer to lay on the bottom of the Lake, forever. But for those heavy items that must be recovered, Tim comes to the rescue, thanks to incredibly expensive equipment, dogged persistence, and the know-how to bring just about anything to the surface.