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Remote Vehicle to Search Lake for 3 Bodies

Castaic: Families rent a robotic unit with a camera since depth is too great for county divers.

January 13, 2002|CAROL CHAMBERS and HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With the county unable to help them, the families of four men believed to have been killed in the deadliest boat crash in Castaic Lake's 30-year history spent Saturday making plans for an unusual recovery mission.

Three employees and a customer of an Agua Dulce boat-building company were testing a new luxury powerboat at high speed Friday when it capsized, authorities said.

The county closed the lake Saturday to allow a rescue team to search for boat debris and three of the victims. The body of Ken Lane, 41, of La Crescenta was recovered soon after the boat sank.

But the second-day search turned up little more than boat pieces and shoes. The wreckage rests 246 feet below the surface, far too deep for county divers.

Sgt. Tom Thompson of the Sheriff's Department dive team said that "99.9% of scuba divers can't go that deep. The deeper you go, you get into a different atmosphere. At that depth, air turns toxic."

County officials said such depths are particularly dangerous at Castaic because the lake's high elevation means the air has even less oxygen. The lake, created as a backup water storage site for the California Aqueduct, is 1,515 feet above sea level.

A spokesman for the families said Saturday that they had rented a remotely operated vehicle with an attached camera to survey the wreckage today.

Michael Gonzalez, a friend of the victims who is a spokesman for all the families, asked that deep-water divers volunteer to help with recovery.

"They all died doing what they loved," Gonzalez said of the four men.

$200,000 Catamaran Was Being Tested

The accident occurred during what friends and co-workers described as routine business.

Steve Coulombe, 38, owner of the boat-building company High Torque Marine, insisted on taking every new boat out for testing, co-workers said. On Friday, he was making a second run in a 30-foot-long, double-hulled catamaran with a $200,000 price tag and room for eight people.

Along for the ride were Lane, who built the twin 400-plus-horsepower engines; Nelson Roy Brinkman, 30, of Phelan, who had mounted them; and Chuck Wiseman, 47, who purchased a boat from Coulombe a year ago and became a friend.

"It was a luxury boat to the max," said Roy Ayers, design engineer and manager for High Torque. "It could run 45 mph all day long and cover a long distance."

Witnesses and family members said one of the engines may have unexpectedly seized. The boat banked hard to the left and appeared to roll over.

It is unclear whether the craft was adhering to the lake's 35-mph speed limit. Friends said the boat was capable of hitting up to 65 mph, but that with four adult men in the boat, it couldn't have reached that speed.

"My dad wouldn't have gone that fast," Wiseman's 16-year-old son, Charlie, said of witness reports that the boat had exceeded 60 mph. "If the boat was going that fast, he would have gotten out so he could be with us the rest of his life."

All four victims courted speed, friends and family members said.

Brinkman eagerly learned the details of engine performance from Lane. Coulombe had driven fast cars since he was a teenager, said his cousin Jim Stopp of Tujunga.

Lane raced drag boats under the name Obsession Race Team, customized hot rods and once blew up the family lawn mower trying to make it go faster, his brother said.

"If it had wheels or it could go on land or water, he raced it," Steve Lane said. "It's what brought a smile to his face."

Wiseman, owner of concrete foundation and subcontracting companies in Castaic, often sought to get away from it all on his speedboat. He also enjoyed wisecracks and was the sort of boss who would help employees buy a house, said employee Felix Blanco.

Wiseman's birthday was Wednesday. His friends had planned a surprise party for him Friday night in Valencia.

*

Staff writer Joe Mathews contributed to this report.

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