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Sparks Marina - F-4 Phantom - Sparks NV

Sparks Marina - F-4 Phantom is a fresh water dive site, located at E. Lincoln Way, Sparks, NV 89434. This dive site has an average rating of 4.00 out of 5 from 2 scuba divers. The maximum depth is 51-60ft/16-18m. The average visibility is 5-10ft/2-3m.

It sits under 50 feet of water in the Sparks Marina. Those who’ve ventured down to see it say it sneaks up on you, appearing suddenly out of the green gloom, or knocking you on the kneecap before you’ve seen it’s there.

It’s the F-4 Phantom, a 63-foot long, 6-foot high fighter jet which crews dropped into the depths of the Sparks Marina on the 4th of July 2000. Since then, it’s become one of the top attractions for scuba divers living in or visiting the area.

Tied to an orange buoy about 100 yards off the south side of the peninsula, the plane is easy to locate, even for inexperienced divers.
But seeing the plane, many say, is tougher than you might expect. The algae thriving in the Marina’s nutrient rich waters keep visibility anywhere from 15 feet to a scant two feet, but has been improving. Diving on the F-4 can be a challenging when the visibility is low.

“There are times when I’ve followed that cable down, and I don’t see the plane until my knees hit it,” said Amadeo Flores, a 40-year-old Reno resident and retired police detective. “(But) it’s got some potential for just excitement because it’s challenging. More challenging that just going to (Lake Tahoe’s) Sand Harbor. You want to experience some things and challenge yourself a little bit.”

The plane, built in 1964, flew missions in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The F-4 arrived in Reno in 1975, and became part of the Nevada Air National Guard’s fleet until a 1988 crash landing, which damaged it beyond repair.

Sparks resident, and owner of Tropical Penguin Scuba, Kevin Schwartz acquired the plane in 2000, with the intention of starting a scuba park at the Sparks Marina — the only lake in the Truckee Meadows appropriate for open water scuba diving.

“As divers we wanted someplace close to dive around here that would be kind of fun, and I thought an airplane at the bottom of a local body of water would be fun, It’s not something normally found on the bottom of a lake.” Schwartz said. Originally, Schwartz planned to drop the plane in the Marina in September but agreed to postpone the event to coincide with the first Star Spangled Sparks celebration in July 2001, when the plane was lowered into the water with an Nevada Amy National Guard Chinook helicopter. “People stopped dead on the freeway to watch,” said Schwartz, who spent three years and roughly $10,000 acquiring, cleaning and transporting the plane. “To me it was extremely worth it. I think that from the standpoint of the diver’s community it’s just been very valuable. It creates something to talk about and dive on. It’s amazing to me to this day, I’ll be talking to someone who isn’t even a diver at the grocery store or at the bank and they find out I’m a diver and they’ll ask if I’ve ever dove the F-4. It’s been tremendous!”

Hans Baumann, a diver from Truckee, said for him, the F-4 has a mysterious, magnetic quality.

“It’s hard to really explain other than that, I’ve done over 50 dives in the Marina now over the last year and a half,” said the 39-year-old truck driver. “I’ll take people out there at any time when I’m available to do it. I keep going back to it. To me, it’s a challenge.”

The challenge, most divers agree, is tied to the low visibility. Visibility in the Marina is actually quite typical for the area. The F-4 Phantom dive has been described as a slow process of exploration.

One diver says it’s kind of eerie, initially. As you approach the plane, you can begin to make out the shadow and the shape. And once you’re down on the airplane, you stay relatively close to it and you just swim around and explore.

Schwartz had bars installed over it so divers can’t climb in the cockpit, but you can still see all the controls inside. As you swim underneath it you can see all the landing gear. And you can swim in the engine bay on the back end. It’s got enough room in there for one to two divers.

It’s not necessarily poor visibility by mountain lake diving standards. When you talk about high mountain
lakes, typical visibility would be between 5 and 15 feet, and that’s pretty much what is seen out at the Sparks Marina.

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PilotAndDiver - 12/30/2018 11:36 AM
We went diving here on 29 Dec 2018. Visibility was better than expected, around 10 ft. Water temp was 47 degrees and the max depth of our dive was 51ft. We we’re wearing dry suits and stayed pretty comfortable down there. Once at the aircraft, silt will be kicked up by anything you touch. The engine bay is huge and worth going just a little ways inside. Visibility dropped to zero after getting in and kicking up silt so make sure you have a hold of something for reference. Bring bright lights and a go pro and enjoy this very underrated dive site. I’ll be going back here for sure. I posted a video to YouTube if you’re interested in checking that out.
Canthon - 4/03/2013 3:33 PM
Rating Added: 4
I went scuba diving here on 8/16/2012. Average viz: Under 5ft/2m. Water temp: Under 50°F/10°C.
We were at the lake for the APBA races as rescue divers and wanted to become familiar with it. The lake’s ranger requires you to check in before your dive. This is a spring fed lake that i am told has some 20,000 gallons of fresh water cycling through daily - keeping it cold. At 42 feet it was 40 degrees.

This is a great dive that really challenges your comfort in a blackout situation. If you are a rescue person or just want to experience the euphoria of a black water dive, this is worth it. The dive is really easy - no challenge except no visability. Its like diving at night without lights. You know theres something beneath you but when will it appear? Then as you descend into the abiss of black, and drop down the line for what seems like forever...... suddenly there it is, the plane.the plane.

This is a great training lake for those wanting to practice skills in a group. Navigation is a key skill to be dialed into or just wanting to practice.
Canthon - 4/03/2013 3:09 PM
Rating Added: 4
Its an interesting dive. Alkali quarry with a neon like surface water once submerged. the first 10 feet or so are like this then it is pitch black. Good Powerful lights are a must. This is really a black out condition dive. After dropping 40 feet down a buoy line, you come upon the F4. Its a pretty amazing and surreal site. Ill save the rest for your enjoyment.

Its an easy dive - but not for the faint of heart or inexperienced.