25 years ago: Hydroplane driver Dean Chenoweth died on the Columbia River - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

25 years ago: Hydroplane driver Dean Chenoweth died on the Columbia River

Posted: Updated:

It was July 31, 1982 and Dean Chenoweth was racing in the 18th Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities.  Chenoweth was a four-time national champion and was making a qualifying run on the Columbia River when things went terribly wrong.

With a speed estimated at 175 mph on the front straightaway, Chenoweth and the Miss Budweiser came off the water.  The bow went first, up into the air.  "The boat seemed for a few seconds to be sitting on its tail," said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Dennis Godfrey in newspaper reports. 

The boat weighed more than three tons.  When it fell over and landed upside down, it crushed Chenoweth.  "We knew it was bad," said Godfrey.  A rescue crew managed to get him out of the boat with a pulse, but was unable to keep him alive.

"Somebody who works for Bernie (Bernie Little, owner of the Miss Budweiser) saw a wall of water and he screamed that Dean had flipped," said Bonnie Anderson in an interview with the Tri-City Herald at the time.  Anderson was the team spokesperson and a good friend of the Chenoweth family. "We all ran out to the dock, but we couldn't see a lot."

It was the second death in less than a year for the sport of hydroplane racing.  Bill Muncey had died in a blow over accident the previous October.

After Chenoweth's death, team owner Bernie Little directed his team to build a canopy that would enclose the driver in the cockpit.  That canopy is no standard equipment on all unlimited hydroplanes.

Three years earlier, Chenoweth had survived one of the most spectacular crashes caught on film.  At Lake Washington in Seattle, Chenoweth was aboard the Miss Bud trying to set a world speed record.  He managed to get the boat up to 226 mph when the rudder and the propeller broke.  The boat tumbled and threw Chenoweth from the cockpit.  He survived; the boat did not.