Chris Craft

Chris Craft Side Scan

Chris Craft Side Scan

While working with NUMA side scan sonar operator Ralph Wilbanks in May 2005 during the search for Northwest Airlines Flight 2501, the side scan sonar revealed a small pleasure craft on the bottom of the lake. It was Saturday, May 7, 2005 — the very day of MSRA’s annual “Evening Beneath The Inland Seas” film festival at Holland, Michigan’s Nickerbocker Theatre.

Ralph and the rest of that day’s search team kept the news to themselves throughout the evening. Then, during the event’s social time, one by one, MSRA board members were taken into a nearby room where Ralph had set up his laptop. As each team member viewed the image, a grim realization began to take hold. Only one name came to mind…the Sea Mar III.

Could we have discovered the final resting place of the missing 32 foot Trojan yacht? And were the bodies of the four young men still inside?

The next day MSRA set out with technical scuba divers Jeff Vos and Bob Underhill to investigate the wreck. Joining the team on the lake that day were Holland attorney John L. “Jack” Coté and family members who were instrumental in the search for the Sea Mar III when she disappeared in September 1980. Coté was also the attorney who fought and won the court case for the families of the victims.

As the dive team suited up, they prepared themselves for the worst. Finding the remains of the victims may give some closure to family members, but could also open old wounds. Finding the Sea Mar III also could prove or disprove many technical issues from the law suit.

Plus, discovering human remains in a deep, dark environment isn’t exactly what most scuba divers signed up for. The dive team descended and the surface crew waited.

Twenty minutes later, diver Jeff Vos popped to the surface with news. The wreck lying 170 feet below was NOT the Sea Mar III, but rather a scuttled pleasure craft of about the same dimensions.

The vessel had been stripped of anything valuable and purposely sunk — probably for the insurance.

Mixed emotions were felt by the MSRA team — sadness that the mystery of the Sea Mar III had not been solved, but some amount of relief that the recovery of the remains of four young men would have to wait for another day.