1930s Steamboat Found By Divers In Lake Erie

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It sank during a summer storm in Lake Erie off this Chautauqua County harbor on July 29, 1930, with 21 aboard. The boat took 15 lives with it; just six survived. It was front page news.

After resting undisturbed on the lake bottom for 75 years, the steamboat George J. Whelan came to life Thursday for nine divers, who were clearly excited about their opportunity.

"You can dive a whole lifetime and never be the first one on [a wreck]," said Wayne Rush, who drove two hours from Port Allegany, Pa., for the dive.

Rush was the first of the divers to reach the Whelan in 145 feet of water eight miles from shore.

Rush and the others said the boat was in impeccable condition, with all of its portholes open. During their brief examination, they said they saw kerosene lanterns, fire extinguishers and porcelain light fixtures, more than enough to pique their interest.

"Next summer, I'll be out here every chance I get," said diver Dan Kuzdale of Dunkirk.

Lake Erie has at least 1,750 shipwrecks, according to Great Lakes shipwreck historian Mike Walker. He said other estimates put the total at closer to 3,000.

Only about 300 have been located, he said, and serious divers in the area are likely to have made multiple trips to most of them.

"The Holy Grail for divers in the Great Lakes is a virgin wreck," he said, noting that the cold, fresh water helps preserve wrecks for hundreds of years. "That boat is literally sitting the way it went down."

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