BOZEMAN, Mont. — Not many cameras get a second shot at life after being dropped in a lake.
Bozeman resident Greg Mather thought he'd never see his Pentax digital camera again after watching it sink beneath the surface of Meadowlark Lake near Lander, Wyo., last summer. But his timing couldn't have been better if he had to lose it.
Mather grew up in Gillette, Wyo., and had gone back to visit friends for Fourth of July 2011 after attending Montana State University. They went camping in the Big Horn Mountains near Meadowlark Lake and were inner-tubing when Mather looked for his waterproof point-and-shoot camera.(backslash)
"I saw the tether floating down through the water," Mather said. "The water wasn't that deep, and I was going for it. But it was extremely cold, and it got lost in all the mud."
Unable to locate the camera, Mather headed back to Montana, not knowing that the Wyoming Department of Transportation planned to drain the lake less than two months later.
WyDOT needed dirt to rebuild parts of U.S. Highway 16, and the silt on the lake bottom that had thwarted Mather's search for his camera provided the best option.
While a WyDOT archaeologist was watching for American Indian artifacts in the sediment, Worland resident William Kumpe was looking for coins with his metal detector on Aug. 29.
"I've been metal detecting for three years and recently pulled a Mercury dime out of the dirt in the picnic area," Kumpe said. "So I decided to see what might be on the bottom of the lake."
Kumpe said his detector can sense metal about a foot deep and he found mostly what he expected — several pennies and spinners.
But as he neared the mouth of the lake, the detector gave off a strong signal about 6 inches down.
"I reached in thinking I'd find a quarter and came out with this camera," Kumpe said. "I figured it was dead so I tossed it in my junk box."
Back home, Kumpe set the camera on a windowsill in the sun for a few days to let it dry out. Kumpe said he works on electronics as a hobby so he took the battery out and was surprised to find it still had half of its charge. So he put it back in and was amazed when the camera worked.
Pentax claims the camera can be left in the water for up to 15 minutes without harm. Mather's camera had been underwater and mud for close to two months.
Kumpe forgot about the camera over the winter but said he got curious again this summer.
He sent a letter to the Pentax marketing department asking if it was interested in the story. Pentax jumped on the story but wanted to find the camera's owner.
"We've been making waterproof digital cameras for around nine years but this is real proof that our camera is waterproof," said John Carlson, senior manager of sales and marketing. "Potentially we might use this for advertising, but we'll definitely promote it through social media."
Social media provided the connection for Kumpe to finally locate Mather.
Kumpe looked at the photos on the camera's memory card and noticed the people in the photo were wearing Bozeman T-shirts and a Jeep had a Montana license plate.
So Kumpe sent an email to the Chronicle, asking for help finding the owner. The Chronicle posted one of the camera's photos on its Facebook page.
"I heard about it from one of my friends in Seattle who saw the photo on Facebook," Mather said. "I checked it out the next morning and sent a message back."
Carlson said Pentax wants Mather's camera so they can study it. In exchange, he's giving both Mather and Kumpe new digital cameras.
That makes Mather happy. He studied photography at MSU, has an expensive SLR camera but never replaced the little point-and-shoot. But one thing is more important.
"I gotta get that memory card," Mather said. "I had photos from three camping trips that I didn't want to lose. That was worse than losing the camera."
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com