by lake historians Loré and Vince DiSalvo
As the warm months of summer draw people to participate in the many activities on Conesus Lake, the subject of what must be on the bottom of the lake will certainly find its way into many a conversation. A catalyst to many of these discussions is the story of the propeller that now sits at the entrance to Vitale Park, belonging to the McPherson/Starrucca Steamboat. The well-recorded story of the largest boat ever operated on Conesus Lake and its demise is just one of many. But other stories abound – many unverified – as to what may be on the bottom of the lake.
Thanks to advancing technology in the hands of the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, some of those questions are being answered. Two years ago, the Sheriff’s Office acquired highly technical marine sidescan sonar equipment for use in cases relating to submersed objects. Divers with the Underwater Search and Recover Team (USRT) note that, with visibility almost nonexistent in many areas of the lake, this unit helps them locate objects before they dive into low-visibility areas.
The USRT was originally called the Sheriff’s Scuba Team. It was founded by then Deputy Clark Young and Deputy Wesley Van Gee, under the leadership of Sheriff Martin Gilbride, after a youth drowned at the gravel pit in Avon in 1968. Early marine sonar technology, on loan from Connecticut State Police, was first used in 1991, in the case of two teenage boys who disappeared near the south end of Conesus Lake. After a shoe containing bones was found on shore in 1995, another effort to find the boys was attempted by the Sheriff’s Office in 1995. Sidescan sonar technology, perfected by then New York State Trooper Karl Bloom, became a new tool for the USRT. In 2015, Bloom joined the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff assigned to marine patrol; he also serves as a member of the SONAR Unit, comprised of specially trained Sheriff’s Office members who assists the USRT with searches in open bodies of water. The Marine Patrol was formed in August of 1947 by Sheriff H. Donald McColl.
Two “What’s down there?” questions have answers thanks to the SONAR Unit and their new technology. One confirms a story of a “hearse” that had gone through the ice. Deputies were able to verify the story by capturing a picture of the vehicle – actually an ambulance – using their new technology. [You can read Vince and Loré’s 2016 article about it in The Livingston County News by visiting thelcn.com. Keywords in the search bar are “errant ambulance.”] After the discovery of the sunken ambulance, Deputy Clark Young asked if we knew about an accident involving two Chris Craft boats on the east side of Conesus Lake. During the search for the two missing boys in 1991, the search team discovered the wreckage of the boats, connected together, apparently, as the result of a head-on collision. We were able to confirm that the accident occurred in July of 1945; occupants of both boats were rescued by cottagers.
Thank you to the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and deputies for keeping Conesus Lake safe for the cottagers, residents and all lake visitors.