By Logan Hall
The owner of the boat that sank off the western shore of Lake Casitas on Sunday is cooperating with officials in attempting recovery efforts. However, the red-and-yellow 1977 “jet boat” has not been located yet, according to Casitas spokesman Ron Merckling.
Original reports from Casitas stating the boat was in 80 feet of water were inaccurate and the depth of the boat, along with its precise location, were yet to be determined as of press time yesterday evening.
The boat’s owner, identified by Casitas as Lukas Branaham, recounts the traumatizing ordeal. “I was heading back in at the end of the day when I felt the whole boat shudder,” he said. “All of a sudden the back was full of water. It came to a standstill and the nose rose up. Within 30 seconds, my boat went down. I didn’t hit nobody or nothing. It was just a freak accident.”
Original reports also indicated that Branaham had fled the scene without notifying officials after the sinking and getting a ride to shore by another boater. But Branaham, says he did everything he could to help resolve the situation.
“I notified someone in the bait shop and they said they couldn’t do anything about it,” recalled Branaham. “I looked for someone at the front gate, but the office was closed and there was no one in the booth. I was wet and freezing, and it was dark outside, so I went home and started making calls.”
Progress was finally made on Monday morning. “The next morning I got a hold of Paul at Vessel Assist,” continued Branaham. “I paid him a thousand bucks out of my own pocket to get everything started. I spent all day on Monday, Tuesday and yesterday (Wednesday) out on the lake trying to help.”
Paul Amaral, salvage master and owner of Vessel Assist, which specializes in locating and retrieving downed vessels, said attempts to lock down the boat’s location have been unsuccessful. “The depth of the area and the terrain of the bottom have made it difficult to pinpoint the location,” said Amaral. “Unfortunately, it’s stuck in an area that is deep and tough to work with. We have an idea of where it is, and we saw something on sonar that caught our attention, but we haven’t found anything yet. At this point Casitas is going to have to decide how they want to move forward.”
Although Amaral says Vessel Assist is, “on hold at this point,” Casitas officials are indicating that Branaham is still responsible for the boat’s removal.
“Lukas has been notified that he needs to take action,” said Merckling. “If the boat is not removed shortly, we will be taking additional action.”
Merckling says there are no fines involved, and no disciplinary steps have been taken toward Branaham at this time, but that Casitas staff is consulting with legal counsel on the matter. “The only thing being done at this time is that we’re seeking advisement from our attorney,” said Merckling.
Although there have been some concerns raised about the boat causing issues with the water quality of Casitas, which is a public water source, Merckling says there is no indication so far that water quality will be affected. “We have a dividing line on the lake to keep vessels away from the water intake,” said Merckling. “If one should sink, it would be far enough from the intake that it shouldn’t cause any problems.”
Branaham admits that this has been a tough week for him, and that it isn’t over yet. “We’ve lost something very valuable and it’s costing us a lot of money,” he said. “That boat was my heart and soul. I’m doing everything I can to make this right.”