Olympic Wrestler's Pilot Lost Depth Perception When Plane Crashed into Lake

Lake Powell turned "glass smooth" when a pilot lost depth perception and crashed, leaving Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner in another extraordinary fight for his life.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday provided the pilot's account of the Feb. 24 crash along the 186-mile-long reservoir that straddles Utah and Arizona.

The National Park Service, concerned about pollution from oil and gas, ordered the pilot's insurer to salvage the small high-performance plane. The recovery from 115 feet of water at Good Hope Bay was made April 3.

The NTSB report quoted Randy Brooks of American Fork, Utah, saying at first he was flying 50 feet over the rippled surface of Lake Powell and had good perception.

About 30 minutes into the flight, Brooks made a turn into Good Hope Bay, where he said his Cirrus SR22 dropped to just 25 feet over water.

"A few moments later, near the center of the bay, the water turned to glass smooth, and I must have lost depth perception because in a moment we were touching water," Brooks told NTSB air safety investigator Jim Struhsaker of Seattle, a former Air Force pilot.

The plane rapidly decelerated but didn't "nose over" when it hit water or sink immediately, the report said.

Brooks, his brother and Gardner managed to jump out and had to swim for an hour in 44-degree water before reaching a distant shore. After a night without fire or shelter, they flagged down a fisherman on a boat the next morning.

Salvage contractor James L. Cross said he found the plane largely in one piece but the engine likely ruined.

"They had to have hit at a shallow trajectory, like a stone skipping across the lake. The plane is in remarkable shape," said Cross, owner of American Fork-based Marine Projects Consulting Co. and Cross International Search and Recovery.

Gardner captured a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Two years later, he was stranded for a night by his snowmobile in subzero temperatures in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, about 15 miles from Afton, Wyo.

He slipped into an icy creek several times, and his body temperature fell to 88 degrees. Gardner lost a toe to frostbite but survived.

Then, two years later, he survived a serious motorcycle accident, also in Wyoming.


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