F6F 3 Hellcat Found in Palau by Team Project Recover.
Skip straight to the Hellcat find:
Read posts related to this F6F Hellcat pilot:
- June 2017 – F6F Hellcat Discovery Leads to DPAA Accounting for MIA WWII Pilot Punnell
- April 2018 – MIA Lt. William Q. Punnell Located by Project Recover to be Buried May 2nd
- May 2018 – Lt. William Punnell, WWII Pilot, Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Read posts related to this TBM Avenger crew:
- April 2018 – MIA For 73 Years, Sharninghouse Will Be Buried With Military Honors
- April 2018 – WWII Ordnanceman Sharninghouse Laid To Rest In Hometown
- December 2017 – Albert P. “Bud” Rybarczyk, WWII Radioman, Buried After MIA for 73 Years
- August 2017 – Former WWII MIAs Rybarczyk and Sharninghouse Accounted for by DPAA
Read posts about other WWII Aircrafts Project Recover has located:
- May 2017 – Two Missing World War II Bombers Documented by Project Recover Off Papua New Guinea
- March 2016 – Project Recover Locates WWII TBM Avenger Aircraft
- March 2015 – PMAN XVII – Project Recover Locates TBM Avenger in Palau
This mission will an extension of the underwater search mission from P-MAN XV. Over the past year, the BentProp Project has continued our relationship with Dr. Eric Terrill and his team of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) experts at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography (UCSD), and Mark Moline of the University of Delaware. In addition, we have continued to work with the Stockbridge High School (SHS) Advanced Underwater Robotics Team which has conducted joint missions with us over the past two years..
The result is that the P-MAN XVI team has created a unique set of underwater search collaborations with an unprecedented capability to explore Palau’s ocean floors for Americans Missing in Action associated with aircraft (throughout Palau) and landing craft (off Peleliu). In parallel, we have continued to conduct extensive research at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, College Park, MD, USA) and other archival sources, particularly in reference to 1) a B-24 reportedly shot down SW of Koror (US and Japanese sources) – possibly in Western Lagoon, 2) both old and new reports of multiple American aircraft crashing in Palauan waters, 3) new information leading possibly to a new crash site of a TBM-1C Avenger and crew off western Aimeliik, and 4) continued work to refine the boundaries of our search area for execution and burial sites of several U.S. airmen, UDT team members, Jesuit priests, and a Palauan family in Ngatpang.
P-MAN XVI TEAM MEMBERS:
Pat Scannon, Team Leader, Derek Abbey, Bill Belcher, Flip Colmer, Casey Doyle, Dave Gianakos, Jolie Liston, Joe Maldangesang, Dan O’Brien, Sean Richardson, Nell Scannon, Rick Smith, Mark Swank
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P-MAN XVI Update #1 – 2014
01 March 2014
The BentProp Project will start the 2014 mission in Palau on 15 March. It will be another month-long mission, looking for the clues to find WWII MIAs still in Palau. Pat Scannon will be the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. The rest of the team will be there for varying lengths of time. The cast of characters and links to brief bio sketches for them are on the page that brought you here.
Our collaborations continue this year. We’ll be joining up periodically with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of Delaware, School of Marine Science and Policy to help with both underwater searches and aerial surveys of Palau.
The underwater team from Stockbridge High School in Michigan is returning for their third year in Palau. They design and build underwater remotely-operated vehicles (UROV). They report that they have new designs for their vehicles and expect to further their success from last year. There will be three returning student members, five first-time team members, two returning teachers, and one first-time teacher coming to Palau this year.
And here’s just a quick forward of some spectacular news for the SHS Underwater Robotics Team. Here is a note from their faculty advisor, Bob Richards, announcing their news.
If you see Shelby Hastings and Maddy Armstrong please congratulate them. (Flip’s note: Maddy Armstrong is part of the field team heading to Palau this year, and Shelby Hastings is in the wings and going on the 2015 team.)
Their short film “Technology and the Path to Palau,” received an honorable mention in the first annual White House Student Film Festival.
Here is the the note announcing their success from the White House:
Dear Student Filmmaker,
On behalf of the White House, we want to thank you so much for your submission to the 2014 White House Student Film Festival. This is the first-ever film festival at the White House and we were delighted to have received more than 2,000 entries that demonstrated so much talent, hard work and enthusiasm for technology and learning.
Your film was reviewed by our team, and we are excited to announce that your film is among those receiving “Honorable Mention” at this year’s festival. Your video will soon be featured on WhiteHouse.gov/FilmFestival, and may be highlighted through White House social media channels.
Given limited event space, we are unable to extend an invitation for you to join in person. However, we hope that you will tune in to watch the Film Festival live on Friday February 28, at 3:30 pm at WhiteHouse.gov/filmfestival.
Attached please find a certificate confirming that your film is among those receiving “Honorable Mention.” Please print and fill out the attached certificate for you and the members of your team, to commemorate this distinction!
Thank you again for your submission. We appreciate all of your hard work and wish you the best of luck as you continue your cinematic pursuits.
Here is a link to their short film:
– Flip Colmer
P-MAN XVI Update #03 – 2014
The jungle isn’t always green – sometimes there’s red tape
17 March 2014
The decision at the end of the evening yesterday was that we would spend much of today revisiting some known B-24 sites to further document them. The reason for this is to verify our facts and to ensure that we hadn’t made any mistakes in mixing up the identification of these sites. It would be a little odd if we had already found the plane that we’re looking for. Additionally, we would search some of the areas around these sites to gather data. We’ve been seeing some interesting man-made stuff in both new and old aerial photos from WWII and weren’t sure what it was. That was the plan.
So we met early for breakfast and briefed the day. Before we headed out on the boat to these locations, we had to meet with a couple of folks to ensure that our permits were in order. We verified our boat was locked and timed out the day. Before we got too far we were contacted by the office of Palauan President Tommy Rememgesau. The President would like to meet today at 4 p.m. Well, that made things tight, but we should still be able to get things done. You don’t just ask the head of a nation to reschedule for a better time. First stop was to the Historical Preservation Office. They handle a number of our permits. Sadly, despite all of our prep and lead time, much of our information had not arrived to their office. This turned out to be a reoccurring theme throughout the day. We naturally blamed Flip, because he is not here to defend himself. Additionally, there had been additional requirements created. Standard administrative stuff (we need a document from this organization that is signed by this person…). So off we went to hunt down some more paperwork and make some phone calls. After our stop at the office of one of the governors, we again discovered that there was missing paperwork (again Flip was cursed without him knowing. I hope he doesn’t read this.). So off to the print shop to get some documents printed and, of course, the printer was down (Are you catching up on the other theme?).
About this time we discovered that the van we were using might be a little too dangerous. There were some fumes leaking into the cab and apparently that is bad. So Dan arranged for the van to be worked on. Luckily Pat and Lori Colin agreed to let us use their van for the day. The van needed to be dropped off close to the US Embassy, so we made an effort to stop in to see the Ambassador since we were in the area and conducting our political glad-handing. Turns out the Ambassador wasn’t in, though, because the incoming Ambassador hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, but we still managed to check in with the powers that be at the embassy. We also stopped in to visit the Civic Action Team, which for this cycle is being manned by the Air Force.
We eventually figured out that we weren’t going to make it out to visit the sites we planned for the day. So after a lot of running around we made it over to see the President. The President was happy to see us again and offered his support for the mission. After a long day of running around and meeting the powers that be, we finished the day at Kramer’s for dinner. No corned beef on the menu, but it was still great. Tomorrow the plan is for an early rise to execute the plan that was supposed to happen today, with some more administrative stuff in the afternoon. We should be getting wet and dirty, though!
– Derek Abbey
P-MAN XVI Update #04 – 2014
Revisiting known sites, and a couple of new ones
18 March 2014
We finally got a little dirty and wet today. We got up early and quickly briefed the plan for the day. Didn’t take too long since it was what we planned on doing yesterday and we just needed to remind each other what the plan was. So after a bite to eat we grabbed our gear, ran through our checklist, and headed out the door. Since we were still sans vehicle we hiked over to NECO to pick up our boat. Once on the boat, Pat briefed us on where his first aid kit is and what is in it. We discussed first aid yesterday at length. Luckily over the years we have not needed to perform any lifesaving steps, but no need to “rest on your laurels” (although I’ve used the statement several times, I learned the history of it today).
Off we went to visit a previously located site in order to conduct some additional documentation. We wanted to verify that we know what we think we know. This site is located on a small rock island only a few minutes from NECO. Once we got to the island it was only a 20-minute hike up to the site. It was nice to be in the jungle again and walking on some uneven ground. This site consists of a B-24 wing. Over the last year we were informed of a characteristic that would differentiate this wing from an earlier model. Later models had static wicks located on the tip of the wing. Our hope was to find evidence of the wicks on this wing. This would further support what we believe about this crash site. Success! We didn’t find the wicks, but we found the anchor for the static wick that was once there.
After taking dozens of pictures we worked our way back to the boat to go investigate some other areas close by. The first stop was an area that the Japanese built up during the war. We hadn’t been on the island previously but pictures from WWII showed that there was a lot going on there. We made our way onto the island and quickly discovered a cave network, some bunkers, a rail system, and more. It appears that it was a logistics base of some sort, but that is just our “educated” guess. I may or may not have taken an entertaining spill while crawling into one of the caves.
Leaving the island we took the boat over to another small rock island. This island too showed something interesting in the WWII picture. We couldn’t figure out what it was from the pictures but thought we would take a look to see if we could find something on the island. Unfortunately, the tide was keeping us from getting the boat close enough to check it out. We weren’t quite ready to swim to the island, so this adventure will be postponed until another day.
One more thing to check out while we were in the area. This was another B-24 wing. This wing is expected to be an earlier model wing without the static wicks. It is located in shallow water that we can wade to rather easily from the boat. We didn’t find any static wicks but that area of the wing is pretty damaged so we are not completely sure about which model of B-24 this wing came off of.
We figured this would be a good time for a break so we took a quick swim in the area before heading back to the dock for lunch. The ride back was wet as the rain started to come down heavy. The good thing was that it was only a few minutes back to the dock.
After enjoying lunch at the Drop Off we went separate ways. Dan and Sean rode with Joe to go pick up our van. After dropping them off, Joe visited the Ngatpang Governor’s Office to pick up our permit for working in that state. Pat and I walked back to the hotel to clean up. As it turns out, the van needed some more work so Dan and Sean dropped it off at another garage before returning back to the hotel.
One more administrative errand for the day: We finally collected all of the required paperwork and permits to receive our final permit from the Historical Preservation Office (HPO). Dan and Sean had made a stop to see our friends at Roll’em Productions and after hearing about our poor vehicle state, Jeff from Roll’em offered to loan us a van for a short bit. So Joe took Pat to HPO and Dan to Roll’em to pick up the van.
Tomorrow we are headed back to the jungle to look at another new area.
– Derek Abbey
P-MAN XVI Update #05 – 2014
A nice walk in the woods. Cool wildlife.
19 March 2014
Well, today really kicked our butt!
We met for our standard breakfast and brief this morning. The plan we discussed last night shifted some as we reviewed some information from some past interviews. Either way the planned called for us to head off into the jungle for the day. After packing up, we headed out the door to revisit a previously found site deep in the jungle. As we looked more and more at what this elder said in the interviews it became apparent that some executions might have taken place in the area we were heading. We decided that we needed to see if we could confirm this information or not.
We figured it would be a pretty easy day, because we had been to this site before. It was about an hour hike in. This is the case when you got the right route and the route has not been destroyed by two massive typhoons. Ultimately we made it, but it took us twice the planned time to get there. We searched and investigated the area and ultimately determined that we couldn’t confirm that executions took place there, but also couldn’t rule it out.
After the extra long trek into the jungle we decided to take the direct route back to our vehicle. The only problem with this is it forces you to traverse cross-corridor (this means you end up having to go up and down hills a lot). After a tiring day and some oppressive heat, the route out took about the same amount of time as the route in. We reached the van after several rest stops to cool off and catch our breath and ended up relaxing for a bit at the van before heading out.
Back to the hotel and off to an early dinner. We were all starving. Mark from the University of Delaware joined us for dinner. Mark is part of the group helping us with water work. We were happy and surprised to hear that they have already started work. Dan and Mark left for the airport after dinner. A couple of more folks from Scripps are arriving as well as our team member, Casey Doyle [active-duty.Marine and grandson of Jimmie Doyle, nose-gunner on B-24 #453, which will be meaningful to those of you who’ve read Wil Hylton’s amazing book “Vanished”].
Tomorrow we are headed back to the jungle!
Photos that follow are all © Sean Richardson 2014:
P-MAN XVI Update #06 – 2014
How a padlock can (temporarily) spoil a nice hike
20 March 2014
Casey Doyle made it in late last night from Okinawa. All of us are a bit jealous because Okinawa’s in the same time zone as Palau, so Casey doesn’t have to adjust to a new time. So no need to give him time to adjust. Casey plugged right in and after briefing this morning we went to an area of jungle close to where we were yesterday, but an area yet to be explored by us. The plan was to spend about five hours moving from one point to the next. This ended up taking us about seven hours, but we made it safely and did discover some new sites, the most interesting of which is an old Japanese microbiological lab — or what is left of it, at least. Our plan is to return to the area in the future and explore some other points of interest.
We had two vans today, which in theory made it easy to move from point to point. We dropped one van off at our planned extraction point and drove the other to the insertion point. When we finished we’d be able to pick up the first van and return to the start point to pick up the other one. Great plan, except when the first van gets locked on the wrong side of a gate after you leave it. The van we are using this year doesn’t have the same markings as last year’s, and was mistaken as an unknown by the folks whose property we parked the van on. So after dragging ourselves through the jungle for most of the day we finished the hike to discover that our van was trapped. Cell coverage was sketchy, so Casey and I gathered up some water and began the trek a couple of miles up the road to where our other van was parked. We had just started to grumble on our extended hike about getting our boots wet in the river we just crossed when a nice man in a Bongo truck picked us up. Casey and I happily jumped in the back and hitched a ride to our own ride. When we finally got back to the other guys, we found out that they had managed to get through on the phone and someone would be out to unlock the gate in a few minutes.
Casey picked Krämers for dinner so after cleaning up and debriefing, off we went. Tonight Flip Colmer arrives. Pat and I are departing shortly to pick him up at the airport. Tomorrow is part administrative and part dive warm-up. Tomorrow morning Casey and I will be planning for an event on Peleliu later in the mission, while others gather things, run errands, and work. In the afternoon we’re off to get a dive or two in. Most of us don’t have a chance to dive when we’re not in Palau, so often it has been a year since we’ve used SCUBA. Tomorrow the intent will be to just reacquaint ourselves with our dive gear on relatively basic dives, which will feel nice after two long days in the jungle.
P-MAN XVI Update #07 – 2014
Flip’s finally in country. Here’s his first report.
21 March 2014
We needed to see some government officials, but a former Palauan Speaker of the House died and all government offices and a lot of businesses closed for the state funeral.
We met in the lobby at 1200 and headed to Neco Marine. Today was our warm-up-dive day. We took along with us Nate from GoPro. He was out on the boat that Scripps and the University of Delaware were using for their operations. We picked him up and dove the Jake, a Japanese floatplane and popular dive spot, as our get-wet dive.
Everyone did fine. Then we chased down Eric Terrill and Mark Moline who were making their first dives off Aimeliik looking for a TBM Avenger. We jumped in and helped with the search.
Debriefed at Neco Marine, got cleaned up, out to a Thai dinner and then a long briefing with Scripps/UDel, looking at potential dive targets.
My sleep program finally caught up with me and I missed a good portion of the brief as I was nodding off quite a bit. But this I know: 0800 breakfast and brief and then out on the water to see what’s on the bottom. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.
– Flip Colmer
P-MAN XVI Update #08 – 2014
Photo Journal by Sean Richardson
22 March 2014
P-MAN XVI Update #09 – 2014
Flip’s take on 22 March
22 March 2014
Nell Scannon, Pat’s daughter, arrived last night. She came here 20 years ago on a BentProp mission and has finally returned. She has taken it upon herself to keep us on task, on time and on schedule. We have a calendar system she came up with that might really make us more effective. Well, at least we’ll know what we skipped that day. We’re trying to talk her into getting her SCUBA certification while here. This may be a tough sell, it appears. Something about getting eaten by sea creatures.
Two nights ago, we met with the Scripps/UDel teams and they gave us a couple of targets that appear manmade. It was our job to go see what was there. We mostly do not get obvious airplane-looking side-scan sonar (SSS) images. That would be too easy. (The Japanese “Norm” from last year was an exception to that rule. Since most of the airplanes we are looking for got blown out of the sky, they could look like anything, but are mostly just debris fields. Therefore, what we get from SSS images are things that look “interesting.”
We have looked at “interesting” targets before. They turned out to be mooring balls and buoys, air intakes from ships, scrap metal, etc. But until you put a set of eyes on it, you do not know whether it is just “interesting,” or a clue. It would be great if we had our own ROV to do the looking. It would save us a lot of time underwater and allow us to look at more targets in a day than you can with SCUBA gear and no cool hand-held technology. This is the why of how our relationship with Stockbridge High School’s Underwater Robotics Team started. They’re coming again this year but they’re not on island yet, so we get to use our eyeballs.
We had broken our group into three teams, with three tanks apiece, so in theory, we could prosecute 9 targets in the day. Team one of Joe, Pat and Sean departed the boat, swam around at 100+ feet and came back up. Joe said the visibility was so bad that he found the bottom by running into it. A lot of small biologic life forms (I’ve always wanted to use life forms in a sentence outside of science fiction.) clouded the water. They did not find the object. It was so bad that Joe grabbed the anchor line of the boat and towed the boat with him as he swum in the muck. The recommendation was not to go back to this target without technology.
So we motored a short distance away to the next target so that the next team, DOB (Dan O’Brien) and I, could see what was at the bottom. We would be diving on a few “interesting” targets that were strung out in a line heading out of, or into, the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR) beach. This used to be a Japanese seaplane base, so you would expect to find stuff on the bottom. Once again, “interesting” stuff beckons.
Down we went. On the way down, it appeared to me that visibility was better. At about 70 feet, I heard a loud, high pitched whistling noise. I turned around and Dan was fiddling with his regulator. Seems something in there was squealing. But it was still working so down we went. It was kinda reassuring to hear the whistling. It meant Dan was nearby without me looking around. The small sea creatures that help limit visibility started multiplying before my eyes and when I got near the bottom, which I never saw, I saw our anchor spinning around. Anchors don’t work well in that condition. That meant that the boat, the anchor and therefore DOB and I following the anchor line, had been drifting away from our intended search area. Doesn’t make sense to keep searching when you have no idea how much you’ve drifted, so up we went. A very short dive.
The first team mentioned getting lots of little stings from all the little sea creatures during there dive. I hadn’t felt a thing until the last three minutes during our safety stop. Lots of cool looking little sea creatures were hungry for my face.
We did have an alternate mission assigned by Scripps/UDel. We could continue searching the wall by Aimeliik. They are planning on using their underwater vehicles in that area, but the vehicles cannot get real close to where the reef and the flat ocean bottom meet. That’s for us to look at. The visibility was better there, but just not pretty. The dive depths ranged from about 30 feet to over 90. But with better viz, we could swim above the bottom quite a ways and still make it out.
This reef line undulates a bit as it goes around the big island. But our instructions were pretty simple: put the wall on your right and start swimming. We broke up into our three teams and were inserted into different points along this wall. That way we could cover more territory. Casey and Derek were to the north, Pat, Sean and Joe to the south, and DOB and I were in the middle.
We swam quite a way, always keeping our right shoulder to the wall. We did notice our compass heading kept changing, and whereas we should end up going overall in a northwesterly direction, we saw all points of the compass pass by. And yet, our right shoulders were always aimed at the wall. After we used up our bottom time, we did our safety stop and surfaced. After a long swim, we came up right where we started. Now how is that possible? And when we surfaced, we were pointed in the correct direction. Very strange. But this also happened to Pat and Sean. Not to Joe, of course. Or Casey and Derek.
We decided to call it a day and headed back to port. Unloaded the boat and debriefed at Neco Marine.
Dan, the First Officer from the Delta flight that brought me in was waiting for us. Dan actually contacted us about a year and a half ago. He had found the BentProp website and thought it looked like a cool project. He started the formal application process then and there. There’s nothing better than a face-to-face interview. Especially in Palau.
We had a limited time before we needed to meet up with Scripps/UDel to get our next set of targets. We went to a new (for us anyway, since it wasn’t there last year) Japanese restaurant and it was quite good.
I went back to the hotel as I was already falling asleep and everyone else went to the target briefing. I thought it best not to interrupt the briefing with my snoring or my head hitting the floor. Now I have to wait a couple more hours to find out what’s next.
The first part of this year’s mission is definitely centered on water. As Derek said yesterday, we’ll have more targets shortly than we can possibly dive.
All photos © Flip Colmer 2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 10 – 2014
Sean’s 23 March photos
23 March 2014
Here is today’s picture update for Casey and Sean. We dove with the Scripps and UDEL head honchos. It was a lot of fun, and their use of the handheld SONAR cut down on target acquisition time by many factors.
P-MAN XVI Update # 11 – 2014
Flip’s notes on 23 March
23 March 2014
Sunday was an interesting day. As we were briefing in the morning for our mission, Scripps/UDel called and asked if we could contribute two divers to their investigative team. So at 0930, we dispatched Sean and Casey to join them as they dove on targets in Malakal Harbor.
The rest of us finished our briefing and prepping and headed out. Our mission today was to continue looking in the Aimeliik area. We dove the wall yesterday. Now Scripps/UDel wants us to swim around the margins of a coral head, again at the bottom where the coral head meets the sea floor. The AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) can’t get all that close so that area was assigned to us. That was target number one. Target two was to continue north along the wall that we worked yesterday. Target three was to snorkel the top of a coral head in the general area as the LIDAR (from a combination of Light and radar) data set showed some large stuff on the top that might be manmade.
As we headed up north to the assigned area, we could see we were going to get rained on. And once the rain started, it really did not stop. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. They’re going SCUBA diving. They’re planning on getting wet already. What’s the deal? Mostly it’s about visibility. At 80 feet, it was hard to see much detail on the bottom and keep the reef wall in sight. By going lower, we reduced the time we could stay under. What we did see, didn’t have much color as well.
We started at the northern tip of the coral head and sent a pair of divers counterclockwise, and three divers clockwise around the coral head. The plan was to dive as long as we could, and if we met up somewhere around the southern end, we would have covered the entire circumference. We did not meet up so we would need a second dive which we did later in the day. On this second dive, we started at the southern end and sent our teams to complete their circumnavigations. We did see a lion fish, eagle ray and lots of pretty fish while doing our safety stops. But other than a tire that was below the boat, we did not see any manmade objects.
In between the dives, we ate lunch and snorkeled the top of a coral head that had some interesting LIDAR returns. What we found were some very large coral outcroppings sticking above the nominal top of the coral head. Someone said they saw a pipe, but that certainly didn’t come from an aircraft.
At 1730, I picked Casey and Sean up at Neco. They said they had had a great day. But we told them to get cleaned up and turned around so we could go for our first Taj outing. The Taj is quite possibly the best Indian restaurant on the planet. We debriefed the day’s missions there over dinner. Then headed to Scripps/UDel and debriefed with them.
24 March – morning
And now it’s 0515 on the 24th. Casey and Sean told us about their dives. They looked at some of the SSS targets that Scripps/UDel developed and did not find any airplane parts. Mostly just metal junk that fell off ships: pipes, railings, gun mounts etc. Really hard metallic targets that give really good echoes on the SSS equipment. They did get to see Scripps/UDel use their handheld sonar equipment, what we call the “Alien Finder” (See the movie Aliens and you immediately visualize this underwater device). And of course the areas that we had poor visibility in a few days ago were much better for them.
At Scripps/UDel central (the Coral Reef Research Foundation, next-door to Neco Marine), we went over the day’s SSS findings, deciding which targets were “interesting” enough to dive on. I think we have over a dozen new targets to look at.
So in a couple of hours, Sean and I will go with Scripps to help the investigative process. The rest of the team is taking either half or full admin days. We have things that have to be accomplished, one of which might even be an interview with someone who found a new potential crash site. More news on that later.
P-MAN XVI Update # 12 – 2014
25 March 2014
This is what success looks like:
You’re looking at the crash site of a TBM Avenger. There are up to three MIAs associated with this aircraft loss. We are still in the process of firmly identifying which airplane this is. But all the years of partnership with so many people and so much effort has paid off.
And that’s really what this story is about. So many people had a hand in making this happen. Nine years ago, a Palauan showed us a wing of an Avenger deep in a mangrove swamp. The mangrove trees had grown enough to lift the entire wing up out of the water. No other parts were around. He has since died without knowing that the path he started us down came to fruition.
Then a Palauan friend of BentProp’s told us a few years later that her father told her of watching the airplane get hit and crashing off the coast. She even pointed to the area where we eventually found the aircraft. So her father’s recollections were passed on to the next generation, and on to us, intact. We’re calling her soon to let her know her father had it right.
Back then, we searched the area with scuba searches and then with the side-scan sonar unit that Marine Sonic Technology donated to us a couple of years ago. Then we found the after-action report for that aircraft and we started to narrow down the area. Katie Rasdorf, Mark Swank, and most recently Dan O’Brien and Mark Moline searched NARA (National Archives) and found more documentation.
This year, Scripps and UDel gave us homework assignments to send SCUBA teams along a reef wall and large coral head as they were deploying their autonomous underwater vehicles. As their searches developed “interesting” targets, we would dive them as well.
Then in a group session of looking at the data from the AUV, we decided which targets looked most promising. There was one target that caught Eric Terrill’s attention as it looked so different. That was the one we dove on.
The water in that area was quite murky, so Eric took the “Alien Finder” hand-held sonar down and we followed. Then we saw the first piece. Definitely aviation with the ribs and flash holes showing. As we looked around this little piece Eric went to the next target. Then he came back, grabbed Pat by the arm and dragged him to the main part of the airplane.
The debris field is dispersed a little bit with a flap over there, landing gear thataway and the fuselage in the middle. And the airplane is missing the right wing, which is what we saw in the mangroves 9 years ago.
Here is the latest example of our collaborative efforts making a difference. This next image is of old information merging with new to keep unlocking the mysteries we’re trying to solve. This is a collage of a current side scan sonar file, overlaying a hand drawn recreation of a 1947 map by a historical researcher in Japan, overlaying a Google Earth view of Palauan waters. Truly amazing.
We found the aircraft yesterday (the 24th). We continued our efforts today, the 25th. We had planned 3 dives today, but only did two. The weather moved in and it got very dark down there. And then the tide started going out and it got murkier. And it rained quite a bit.
We are taking a few days off from this case and working on some of the other “interesting” targets that have been developed by Scripps and UDel. We’ll get back to the Avenger when Bill Belcher comes to town. He’ll be a team member while he’s here, but in his real life Bill is a forensic anthropologist at JPAC — and somehow, I don’t think we can keep him away from taking a peek.
– Flip (Photos © Flip Colmer 2014)
P-MAN XVI Update # 13 – 2014
Sean’s photos for The Big Find.
24 March 2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 14 – 2014
A 2005 retrospective:
finding a TBM wing in the mangroves, hearing a family legend, and closing another circle. THIS is why we never give up.
26 March 2014
A couple of days ago, the team located the underwater crash site of a TBM Avenger, in an area where we’d been looking because we EXPECTED to find a TBM. We believe that this find closes a circle that started for us nine years ago. Please step back with us in time to March 2005, and take a look at these two progress reports and an excerpt from the 2005 final report:
P-MAN XVI Update # 15 – 2014
Data analysis, murky water, and the Alien Finder
26 March 2014
Today was a water day for everyone except Dan O’Brien. He wanted a day back at the ready room to get caught up on photos, reports and all forms of stored digital files. And he ran some errands. And he secured another van for us for a few days. And maybe he caught a nap as well.
We got to Neco Marine around 0940, grabbed our SCUBA gear, loaded the boat and then we picked up Eric and Shannon from the Scripps/UDel group at the Coral Reef Research Foundation dock. That’s about 100 yards from where our boat was parked.
I’ll get to the point quickly. We saw a lot of dark brown coral outcroppings along a sandy/silty bottom. Very little manmade stuff found its way into the areas that we explored. So no clues to the next find.
Most of our dives were at about 70 feet. Except one that was down about 105 and the bottom was further down at 122. However, from the latitude/longitude we were given, it too was supposed to be about 75 feet. Hmmmmm? We’ll have to revisit the correct spot later.
We did 3-4 dives each with Shannon and Eric taking turns utilizing the Alien Finder. Okay, it has a real name: Shark Marine Navigator built by a company called Blueview. It uses a high resolution imaging sonar that is integrated into a diver portable system. It allows us to search in low to no visibility settings underwater that would be impossible otherwise – sort of like pilots flying on instruments. It just looks like an Alien Finder. But whatever it is called, it really helps with searches.
We called it a day about 4 p.m.. Back to Neco, cleaned up our gear and met the folks from Cleared Ground Demining. Steve and Cassandra run a NGO that cleans up former battlefields of munitions (UXO). They’ve become great friends of The BentProp Project and it’s always great to get caught up with them.
We did another night-time review session. We looked at the day’s SSS results and have picked half a dozen targets in an area where we believe a Hellcat went in. On our next water day we’ll prosecute these targets. We also reviewed some data that are being developed in hopes of creating a search plan for the last of the B-24s to be found. Our partnership with Scripps/UDel is rich in numerous ways.
Speaking of partnership, I’d like to talk about this a bit more. I went back into our updates from a few years ago. We reported about meeting the Scripps/UDel folks for the first time in P-MAN XIV Update #06 – Corsair![22 March 2012] – We stopped in at the Coral Reef Research Foundation (which is next-door to Neco) and found the REMUS teams. They are here, at least for the rest of the day, doing oceanographic work with their autonomous ROVs. These guys have some really cool toys. They also like what we do and sent their AUV over some of our side-scan sonar (SSS) hits. I think our Stockbridge ROV team is going to be really happy as all these areas are a target rich environment. They are GOING to image more than the swimming-pool drains that have comprised most of their testing so far. Most of the REMUS folks are leaving tonight, but a few are staying behind for a few more days to finish up and pack out. The Stockbridge ROV team will have a chance to visit with them on Saturday before they pack up their toys and go home.
Then a funny thing happened. We stayed in touch, showed Scripps/UDel more of what we do and they showed us what they do. Working with BentProp actually furthers their mission goals. The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) is a major sponsor of the Scripps and UDel teams. ONR has made investments in developing new underwater and unmanned technologies for the Navy, and the Bent Prop mission serves as a real-world proving ground for testing and demonstrating these emerging capabilities. Dr. Terri Paluszkiewicz from ONR, who visited last year for part of the expedition, has been supporting Scripps/UDel for several years now. The partnership between ONR, Scripps/UDel and BentProp furthers the overall Naval mission by exposing the public to exciting science and engineering and provides inspiration to school kids like the group out of Stockbridge, Michigan.
STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is a big buzzword in education today. Looking down the road, it’s one thing to just make use of an iPhone or any sort of technology for fun and profit. But it’s quite another to have a firm understanding of how it works, how to design it, build it and how to think out of the box and make the next great discovery. BentProp helps Stockbridge further the education of their students by giving them the chance to design, build and deploy their underwater vehicles and then explore in the real world. This extends the partnership from ONR, directly through Scipps/UDel and BentProp to the Stockbridge High School students. And these young men and women are our future, whether in the military or whatever path they go through in life.
I was going to have a separate update for today, but we did not go out on a boat, or go out into the jungle. After five days of diving, we needed a down day. So everyone took an admin day. That doesn’t mean we did not accomplish stuff. Dan, Joe, Sean and Casey took a helicopter ride looking at some metal found on the top of one of the islands. I worked on a modification to my BC. Pat gave a presentation to a medical clinic in town.
Derek went for a run. Everyone who’s on Facebook checked in there (and consequently bandwidth got eaten up). We’ll most likely have another SSS scrub with Scripps/UDel tonight.
P-MAN XVI Update # 16 – 2014
F6F 3 Hellcat Found in Palau
28 March 2014
The day started out innocently enough.
Casey left the hotel early to catch a ride down to Peleliu with the Go Pro guys. He was going to help them get some shots and he was going to make some arrangements for a visit down there in April. He said if for some reason he couldn’t go on the flight down to Peleliu, he would load the boat with all of our scuba gear and be ready to push off the dock at 0900. Win-Win, if you ask me.
Eric from Scripps called and asked for an extra deckhand from us to help with the REMUS vehicles (AUVs). Derek volunteered to help beam the bottom with Andy from Scripps and Megan from UDel. Their target area was Western Lagoon. And he got to help launch and manage three vehicles at the same time.
Eric, Mark, and Shannon, along with the Alien Finder, went to investigate three specific targets that looked “interesting” on the SSS.
Eric and Mark gave the rest of us from BentProp (Pat, Dan, Flip, Sean, and Joe) another wall assignment. Nell came along to round off the group and keep working on her drawings of airplanes.
Casey had indeed loaded the boat and was waiting for us. Twice. The first boat he loaded had a malfunction so he moved all of our gear and tanks to the next boat. Then he got a call saying a slot had opened up on the flight to Peleliu. Again, Win-Win.
Our assignment: off the shore of Arakabesan, there is a drop off from about 20-30 feet down to 80-90 feet. The AUVs cannot get close to the wall so we non-techie BentProppers got that assignment, again. It felt a bit like being picked last in the sandlot baseball game and being assigned to right field, long. In the last inning. The cool kids had all the infield assignments.
We dropped in and Dan led the way. We set up a line-abreast search pattern with Dan being closest to the wall, then Pat, Sean and me. Joe had his normal independent roaming duties (like a free safety…).
We estimated there was a half mile of wall to check out and that we would need two dives to do it. We started at the furthest western point and started swimming. Sometimes, the visibility went down to just a couple of feet due to the silt suspended in the water. We would swim into and out of these white-out areas. When we consumed our air supplies, we surfaced. I think Sean found a takeout food container top and we all saw brown coral in the murky water.
As we were waiting out our surface interval between dives, we saw the Scripps/UDel team farther out in the water setting up for their first dive. We had lunch and wondered what the cool kids with the magnificent tools were doing. We thought about driving over to them to chat, but just sat where we were, munching on our lunches.
After a goodly amount of time, they came over to us. We chatted a bit about what each team saw: nothing by us and nothing by them. When we all had enough surface time, we parted company and they went to dive another target. We went to the eastern point of our swim path and this time headed west. If we were good, we would get to where we left off from the first dive and would have completed our assignment.
We dropped in with Dan along the wall and the rest of us in line abreast. We started into the same kind of bad visibility we had before. Then Joe crossed in front of me and was swimming away from the wall. I looked out and saw what appeared to be a coral mound but angled towards it. Joe got to it and then I did. This was man made. Metal. Pretty flat and crushed whatever it was. I was looking for ribs with flash holes or anything aircraft looking. As I swam around it, I found a wheel. A tail wheel. A very distinctive F6F Hellcat tailwheel.
I started banging the side of my tank with a brass shackle to get everyone to stop and come over. Sean heard it and he started investigating with me and Joe.
I tied my signaling buoy to the wreck so the boat would know where we were and so we could find this easily again. I swam out on a heading, arced around a bit and came back in. More wreckage away from this big piece. All in all, between both dives we did, we’ve seen a lot of the airplane including empennage, wing, prop, motor, flap, landing gear, 50 cal machine gun and more metal. It’s spread out approximately 50 meters across.
This find led to Lt William Q. Punnell, WWII Pilot, Accounted For By DPAA (2017) and
We all headed up, did our safety stops and got on the boat. Now there was no debate. We drove over to the Scripps boat and told them the good news. This is truly a mark of our partnership. We started looking for this plane in 2003 or 2004. We did a lot of snorkeling closer to shore. Scuba a bit farther out. Trolling for sharks (being towed around the water with snorkeling gear) and use of our SSS equipment. Even though the area is challenging for the AUVs, Mark Moline said that they should do an AUV search. They got the “interesting’ targets and we got the void spaces. And today the void spaces had the prize.
We did one more dive. Scripps/UDel went back down first to use their technologies to map out the debris field. Then we went down to stir up the sediment and swap out marking buoys. Each dive reveals more about the site.
We did notice an unusual coincidence. On all of the sites we’ve found, if an MIA is associated with the site, there’s been at least one lion fish in residence. For the sites that do not have an MIA associated with them, no lion fish. Call us crazy but we see it as a sign.
Back to the dock. We had a meeting scheduled with the Governor of Peleliu at 1700. Pat raced off so one of us wouldn’t be late while the rest of us put up our gear.
Met with the Governor to chat about our Peleliu outing. You’ll get details of that excursion when it happens.
Out to Krämers for a celebratory dinner with Scripps/UDel. It was going to be a short dinner for me and Casey – we were going to meet the Stockbridge High School students at the airport for their scheduled arrival of 2005. However, Lori from Coral Reef checked and the flight wouldn’t get in until 2115. WooHooo! Didn’t have to rush dinner.
When we left for the airport Derek came along with us. The rest of the team went to Coral Reef to review data with Scripps/UDel.
The kids looked ready to go when they arrived. However, we had one stop for them first. Our traditional welcome to Palau Bem Ermii milkshakes. The student team consists of three returnee students and five first-timers, along with two faculty returnees and a first-visit teacher.
Back at the hotel the kids went to work unpacking their gear and assembling their vehicles. They’ve brought the ROV that they built, and they also brought a small, compact manufactured unit that looks like a bowling ball with two propellors on it. But I hear it swims really well.
Pat looked at all of us and said “Sleep in! And meet at 0900.” I guess we’re all a bit tired from being out on the water so much.
So the story for today: An F6F-3 Hellcat has been found and now the process of locating and bringing home another fallen warrior can really commence.
Unless otherwise noted, photos © Flip Colmer 2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 17 – 2014
Sean’s photos from 27 March
27 March 2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 18 – 2014
Sean’s photos from 28 March
28 March 2014
Here is the update from yesterday with The Big Find 2.0
P-MAN XVI Update # 19 – 2014
Sean departs. Stockbridge arrives. Sam gets a present.
29 March 2014
The big news today was Sean Richardson heading back home. It was great having him out here. He loves the mission, has a great eye for detail, and is one of the funniest people on the planet. If he wanted to, he could have a career in stand up. But seriously folks……… He will be missed.
We did one dive on the Hellcat yesterday. Mostly to give Derek and Casey a chance to see it but also to try and identify more parts. We’ve definitely found the cockpit area. And with that, we decided not to go back for more dives on it. We’ve done our part. Reports are being drafted for Palauan and U.S. authorities.
It had rained on us most of the the morning and we all got a little chilled. We went back to shore and had hot lunches, looked at each other and gave the boat to the Stockbridge team for the rest of the day. They had planned on checking out their vehicles from Neco’s dock, but the checkout went so well they were ready to go see something. They went to the Jake Seaplane dive spot and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming their bot in the ocean on a real airplane wreck. Their ROV worked great.
After we dropped Sean off at the airport for his evening flight to Taiwan (quite a reasonable hour compared to the other flights leaving Palau) we went to Bem Ermii for dinner.
Then to Scripps/UDel for a meeting to get more targets. No walls or void spaces from the AUV missions for us to look at, but they did give us some point targets in Malakal Harbor. But those targets would remain hidden until the next morning.
30 March 2014
It’s the next morning! We loaded a boat with all of our SCUBA gear and underwater GoPros. Pat from GoPro went with us for part of the day getting more shots for their video. We had five targets to look at. Malakal Harbor has lots of ship debris in it. The odds are that what we see as interesting targets on the SSS, are probably things we really aren’t interested in. But until we see them, we can’t be 100% sure.
So down we went, four times for five targets. Two were very close together. As predicted, not relevant to what we are doing: some large sections of pipe, some coral and some rocks.
Now we know not to go back there. However, it was a nice day on the water. That covers the happenings for me, Dan, Casey and Joe.
Pat and Derek started the morning with a brief with the Stockbridge team. One of the things we do is give feedback to them on their processes to help them create a more effective team and therefore a more productive team. Each of the BentProppers will have a chance to spend the day with the Stockbridge team from first brief, through the operations on the boat to the debrief at the end of the day. If we see something that might help them improve their performance, we tell them.
The targets for the Stockbridge team were varied. One was a 400-foot-long ship which they found and explored a bit in Malakal Harbor and the other was a point target in a channel near the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR). The reports from Derek and Pat were that the team did great. They’ve picked up where last year’s team left off. With three returning students, the newbies do not have to recreate the wheel from scratch. The students did a great job of running the debrief, covering what they feel they did well and what they felt they needed to improve upon.
The Stockbridge ROV lost the video feed mid-dive, but as of this writing, they feel they’ll have it up and running again by tomorrow morning. The off-the-shelf robot took its place and it ran like a champ, until it ran out of battery power. Just short of the second target they were looking for. All in all, a great start to this year’s mission for them.
We turned ourselves around pretty fast and went to Sam’s for sunset and dinner. The sky was pretty clear so the colors were not as dramatic as usual, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
We have a returning team member showing up tonight: Bill Belcher from JPAC. How convenient that we have things to show him not only in the water, but also on land. He gets in at midnight, but someone from BentProp will pick him up.
Tomorrow, we take Bill to both the Hellcat and Avenger sites so he can start his workup of the sites. Of course we would like JPAC to start the recovery work yesterday, but realize that they have to slot these sites into their calendar taking into account current activities and already planned activities. So we’ll just go back to looking for more targets that hopefully become discovered crash sites that start the process of bringing another MIA home.
Dan O’Brien, with his BentStar hat on, gave Sam a copy of Mark Pestana’s print of the ‘453 B-24 that was the subject of Wil Hylton’s recent book Vanished. This was for all the years of help that Sam’s Tours has given us, and coincidentally, it was Sam’s birthday recently.
P-MAN XVI Update # 20 – 2014
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
31 March 2014
Last night, Bill Belcher arrived. He’s a JPAC anthropologist and in charge of the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) out in Hawaii. He’s been threatening to take some vacation over the past few years and join us once again in the field. This year, he came through.
He arrived late at night so I didn’t see him until the morning coffee hour. A funny man who would give Sean a run for his money. Sean may be younger and quicker, but Bill is older with more insurance.
Today was a more solemn day than usual. We would be doing two flag ceremonies to honor the crewmen from the two airplanes we’ve found. Although all of our groups have work to do in the field, we all took time out to recognize the sacrifices made by these four Navy men and their families. Without acknowledging these losses, we would not be honoring all of our military service members past, present and future.
The ceremony is not an official one. It’s a BentProp Project tradition. The official military honors ceremony is waiting for the entire process to finish and the return of the missing to their families. Ours is just an acknowledgement of the first step, and something to give to the families showing where the return home started.
We all met up over the Hellcat: BentProp, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of Delaware along with our Palauan boat captains Nick, Spyce and Matt. This airplane had a crew of one. We held an American flag and a Palauan flag over the site. We record the comments made and will deliver the flags and video to the family when JPAC finishes the identification and notifies the family. Here are some photos of the event.
As is BentProp’s tradition, someone will take charge of the flags for future delivery to the family. Since this was a Naval loss, I’ll hold the flags pending notification of the families.
People do ask us why we do not call the families and notify them ourselves. Frankly, that is not our mission. BentProp has not done, and will not do an identification of the missing aircrew. That’s the job for JPAC and the official government searchers. Our job is to create a case file that points the way to a recovery. Now that we have sufficient evidence for this site, we can move on to the next case and try to find another missing aircrew.
After this ceremony we pulled up anchor and headed to the Avenger crash site. We did not dive the Hellcat. We’ll come back so that Bill Belcher can take a look in the next day or two. He did dive the Avenger site. The Scripps/UDel team wanted to show Bill the site. They also wanted to complete the survey work with their AUVs. So with Eric and Mark telling Bill to duck if he heard the vehicle approaching, the three of them headed down to the Avenger.
For some strange reason, no one else wanted to dive. And there were a lot of people on the boat. Even I didn’t want to dive on the Avenger again. So we all hung out chatting and watching Evan Walsh fly the octocopter. Shipboard ops commenced while Eric, Mark and Bill were surveying.
Evan sent the octocopter, along with its Go Pro camera over the mangrove where the other wing from the Avenger was found. We have had some success finding aircraft debris hiding up in the mangrove branches. We were hoping that we might see some more. Or even get a picture of the wing from the air.
Mark and Eric returned to the surface but since Bill had his rebreather, he stayed down for over an hour. What’s really great about partnering with Scripps/UDel is that in the past, Bill would have to sketch out the debris field by hand while underwater so that they would have a map to work from. Now, he has a high quality digital map consisting of SSS imagery and GoPro footage. Very cool indeed.
It was about 2pm or so, and we were going to wait for Pat and Lori Colin from The Coral Reef Research Foundation to show up. At about 4pm.
So someone said, ‘hey, you’re in Palau. Shouldn’t you be diving?’ Mark said he wanted to see pretty fish on a nearby reef so some of us suited up and went with him. Pat and Eric went down on the Avenger one more time.
A few days ago, DOB lost his mask over the side. So far, I hadn’t lost anything. I thought I had broken my curse of losing things in Palau. Not so. I lost my Go Pro while getting back into the boat from this pretty fish dive. And I really had some great photos. Even one of the Loch Ness Monster. But sorry, they are at the bottom of the ocean so no pictures for you.
We raced back to the Avenger site, Lori and Pat were there and we conducted another ceremony. The Avenger had a crew of three and we held three flags for the three families.
To close the ceremony, as we do at every crash site, Pat recited a stanza from the poem For The Fallen by Lawrence Binyon:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Again, as the Navy connection, I will safeguard the flags for all three families until they can be delivered.
The ride home was a bit subdued. In our own way, each of us internalized the day, and everything that has gone into making it happen.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 21 – 2014
Pat tries out a new tool. Casey teaches Nell to point. Belcher revisits an U/W dig site.
01 April 2014
We did not do a lot yesterday. Just seemed that although we needed to accomplish something, we took our time. I think we are getting a bit weary. And we have lots more to do.
We headed up to Police Hill to show Bill Belcher the areas we think some executions and burials took place. Some airmen, frogmen and a Jesuit community were executed here. Again, if we get him enough information, Bill can make a recommendation for a JPAC recovery op.
Although it was a jungle day, we did not go very far, or for very long, into the jungle. We hopefully will take a real cross-country hike through wild jungle before too long.
Jo Schumacher arrived at about 9pm. She is the niece of one of the executed airmen up on Police Hill. She’s out here as a guest of BentProp to see where we think her uncle is buried, and also to see his plane which we found a few years ago. However, she was not able to finish her dive certification so if she wants to see the plane, she needs to finish school.
Dave Gianakos arrived late this night. He is a new team member and is also a pilot for Delta. If you Google him, you’ll realize he knows a lot about airplanes.
02 April 2014
We had a lot of different directions to go in today.
Pat, Derek, Dave, Nell, Bill and Eric and Mark went back to the Hellcat today. The goal was to allow Bill to look the site over and see if he could make a recommendation for a recovery op. The good news is that after a couple of dives, Bill has enough info. So we do not have to go back to this site and can work on some of the other cases.
The Stockbridge students were on the water today. In the morning, they went out and had a problem with the vehicle. They got it fixed and started searching in the afternoon. It really is amazing to see the team take over from where last year’s team left off and move the bar higher. I have not been out on the boat with them yet, but I am looking forward to it on April 7th. This year, rather than having BentProp members with them every work day, we are only out on their boat on the first, third and sixth work days. This gives them some time to work out on the water without being under a microscope.
I had some administrative obligations and met with representatives of the government concerning permits for filming crews, a trip to Peleliu for a memorial ceremony, and general logistics items.
We have four different media organizations out here this year. And their story lines all seem to be different so they are not tripping over each other. GoPro is here, CNET is here, 60 Minutes is here, and Traveling Picture Show will be here.
Our boat came back in. Bill Belcher had to get off to teach a class via the Internet. Pat had to go up to Police Hill with Evan from Scripps to do some octocopter work. I got on the boat and we took Dave out to the Jake for his first dive in Palau. This is a nice warmup dive for anyone’s first few days in Palau. Not too deep and something to look at.
We had the Jake to ourselves for a bit until a pod of divers came by. Too many folks, so we all surfaced and left.
We came back to Neco Marine and picked Bill back up along with Eric and Billy Middleton. You met Billy last year. He lives in Hawaii and works for a company, Liquid Robotics, that makes ocean sensor vessels. One of their products is called a Wave Glider. Billy is temporarily a Scripps guy for a week or so helping with the oceanography projects.
We went back out to a crash site that we found back in 2003. This is a Corsair that is only a few hundred yards from our marina. Bill ran the recovery op a few years later and unfortunately came up empty-handed. It could be the Japanese buried the pilot on the nearby island or in a cemetery, but there is no record of that. Bill wanted to revisit the site.
I did see a lot of new coral growth down in the slightly chillier water of the harbor. And that’s always a good thing.
When everyone was done with their day’s mission, we all met for dinner at Krämers and then went to Scripps to scrub the day’s data for some targets. And we have some, so we have ‘job security’ on the water for a few more days.
All photos © Flip Colmer 2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 22 – 2014
Resuming the search for the Ngerchaol TBM. Visitors approach – both human and weather.
04 April 2014
Yes, I know. I’m a few days behind. But I’ll get caught up when the typhoon hits on Sunday. What – I didn’t mention this earlier?
Pat made a command decision today. We are going to start our briefs a bit later. We are mostly diving. We are only doing 2-3 dives in a day. We don’t have to get up early just to finish early and stay up late debriefing with Scripps/UDel. So, we are sleeping in a bit longer, briefing at 0900 and heading out after that. Except for tomorrow. But that comes tomorrow.
We did split ops today. Bill Belcher took Casey, Dan, Nell and Evan from Scripps up to Police Hill. Bill directed and completed a couple of shovel test pits in Area A. I’m told they found some small nails, that in some of the holes the dirt looked as if they never been disturbed and that they had a lovely time using 1/4 inch screens sifting said dirt. Our valiant dirt sifters are part way to earning their Junior Archeologist badges.
The rest of us – Pat, Flip, Derek, Dave, Jo and Joe – went cruising to look for some more clues for another lost Avenger. We know from some After Action Reports (AARs) that an Avenger was shot down just south of Arakabesan. Long ago, Dennis Whalen showed us some piece parts south of Ngerchaol island. Just a couple of pieces, but enough to know it came from an Avenger. We hiked that island and found one or two small pieces on the top of the island. This year, a Palauan said he knew of an airplane north of this area. We have an appointment to go see it sometime this weekend. This reported plane appears to be in a line with the Dennis parts and the parts on top of the hill. So we went diving between the reported plane that we haven’t seen, and the piece parts we have seen.
This was a wall search pattern – which, as you know, we have done pretty well with this year. So we dove on the southern shore of the northern island. Twice to cover a lot of coastline. Found two pieces of aluminum that could be from an airplane. What parts they are we do not know. Yet.
We dove the northern shore of the southern island and didn’t see anything. But the fish were prettier on that side. We got back to Neco Marine, went back to the the hotel and took off to Sam’s. Great color at sunset. But the real reason we went to Sam’s was to watch the Stockbridge students put on a presentation about their mission.
This year, they brought along five kits for making Underwater ROVs and helped the local grade school build them, then swim then on a shipwreck near Sam’s. The ROV’s will stay in Palau in the school system to help teach the kids about the environment around them. And how to build ROVs.
The ROV team is having a great year. They’ve found a couple of items on the ocean floor that we wanted them to look at. They determined they were not aircraft related. This means WE don’t have to dive there to check out the items. Yes, they do want to find an airplane. But they also ‘get it’ that determining that something isn’t an airplane helps us in the long game to find airplanes.
Watching the teamwork and stick-to-it-ness of this year’s team is amazing. Each year the teams are different. But each year’s team has taken the lessons learned from the previous outings to improve their bot, their processes and their success. It’s rewarding for us to watch them work. We hung around a bit for photos, then back to la casa.
We held a debrief for the day’s events and then a quick brief for the next day’s events. Then the advanced party from the VIPs showed up for a quick get together. Part of the debrief was Casey giving Bill his CO’s challenge coin.
Since I’m behind in my updates, you may have already seen in the media that we will have some guests showing up here in a few days. Governor Rick Perry and his wife and daughter, R.V. Bergin and his daughter, and Marcus Luttrell and his wife will be in Palau shortly. All hail from Texas. The Governor, R.V. Bergin and Marcus Luttrell will be joining us to help in our searches.
R.V. Bergin was a Marine on Peleliu in World War Two and led a mortar section. He wrote a book called Islands of the Damned. Eugene Sledge, who wrote With the Old Breed, was in his section. R.V. is a spry 92-year-old and wants to see where he fought. And help with our searches.
Marcus Luttrell is the author of Lone Survivor and was a Navy S.E.A.L. Lone Survivor is also a movie and is still playing on the big screens. Marcus can help us look for three Underwater Demolition Team members (the precursors to the SEALS) who were captured on Yap and transported to Palau. They never made it off the island. We understand that these are the only three UDT/SEALS who have not come home.
Governor Perry is the current governor of Texas. He wants to hike the jungle with us and do some of our scuba searches.
And then there is the typhoon. It started out as a tropical depression with a prediction of gaining strength. It should hit Palau as a category one typhoon with winds up to 65 knots, I believe. The current model puts it crossing Palau right around Peleliu. However, the models also show a wide area to the north and south where it could go and miss us. All we know is that having Scripps/UDel here giving us updates is very reassuring. Looks like we’ll still have Saturday as a work day, but Sunday and Monday will probably be a washout. Of course Monday is when The Texans were scheduled to arrive. And BentProp team member Mark Swank as well. Semper Gumby, as Bill Belcher taught us: Forever Flexible.
We’ll work Saturday and then batten down the hatches. We stocked up on water and Spam, and have enough movies to take care of us so long as the hotel’s generator keeps working if the power fails.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 23 – 2014
How many minutes in an hour?
03 April 2014
Well, I was pretty tired last night and realized after I hit send that I didn’t include any underwater photos. So below are just a few to get caught up with 03 April.
04 April 2014
So back to April 4th. We had Anderson Cooper with us to do a 60 Minutes story today. He went diving on the B-24 that we found a few years ago – it was the subject of Wil Hylton’s book “Vanished.”. Our host for the dive was Casey Doyle. Casey’s grandfather, Jimmie Doyle, was the nose gunner on this B-24 and he was recovered by JPAC a few years ago. Eight of the eleven crewmembers were recovered and brought home. The three remaining crewmembers had parachuted out, were captured by the Japanese and were executed. Jo Schumacher’s uncle was one of those crewmen and she was on the boat as well. We are on the hunt for these airmen and Jo will be heading up to Police Hill with us tomorrow.
The crash site is split into two debris fields on opposite sides of a large coral head. The nose section and a wing are towards the south and the tail and aft fuselage on the north side. The directions to get from the nose to the tail are swim counter clockwise with the coral head on your left. Don’t drift too far away from the coral head. Swim past a giant black fan coral (Gone, but a white one has taken its place.) and then a log, and then when you get to the point where you think I’ve pulled the wool over your eyes, the tail will emerge from the murk
Once I put my camera away, someone broke out the Oreos and Anderson joined in our post dive ritual of Vitamin O recovery. Then the 60 Minutes boat took off and explored Palau.
We went back to port for lunch and to drop off Casey and Derek. Each wanted an admin afternoon. Casey got a haircut and is back to looking like a Marine instead of a rock star and Derek went grocery shopping for us.
Dan O’brien, with his BentStar hat on presented a copy of the B-24 print to Shallum and Mandy Etpison, owners of Neco Marine.
After lunch we went back out for more wall searches. It has come to my attention that I may have not adequately explained what I mean by wall. Most of the islands in Palau are coral upheavals. Essentially reefs that are now exposed. In the water there tends to be a very swift drop off around all of these islands, and the underwater reef structures. The vertical sections are what I’m referring to. The notch is what I call the meeting of a wall and the flat ocean bottom. And it is this area that the AUVs cannot scan and we calls those voids when discussing electronic searches.
We did not come up with anything. I don’t think we saw anything man-made (Or as Bill Belcher, Mr. Politically Correct is asking us to say, person made.) on either dive. And not many fish. On the first dive I saw one sea cucumber and one fish.
Out to dinner at the same restaurant as Scripps/UDel so we knew we did not have to be on time for our eight o’clock review of potential targets.
The review revealed a lot of seemingly good targets. Tomorrow we’ll punch those out and hopefully find a piece of an airplane. Down south where another Hellcat went in.
For those watching the weather for us, here’s an update. For over 20 years that Pat has been coming here, there has never been a major storm to hit Palau. In fact, it’s not even typhoon season yet. But we know the reason why the storm is coming. There’s a skydiving event going on here. For years, those of us who used to skydive had always heard “but it never rains/storms/snows/monsoons/typhoons/hurricanes here this time of year.” when going to specialty skydiving events. Like coming to Palau to skydive at the airport and onto Peleliu. So I blame the jumpers for coming to Palau and bringing the bad weather.
Joe calls this a banana leaf storm. Only the very large banana leafs will be blown off the trees. Everything else will be fine. Now if it were a betel nut tree storm, that would be a different story.
The storm is supposed to hit Sunday night somewhere south of Peleliu. Of course that can change. But we’ve stocked up on water and spam and our supply of Oreos is sufficient so we can SCUBA the first day after the storm.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 24 – 2014
05 April 2014
Rick Smith is here! He arrived at 0140 along with his girlfriend Josie. Rick has been in the field with us before, but has had a couple of years off. His interest in MIAs though is strong and during those off years he went with History Flight to Tarawa to look for missing service members there. He’s an experienced tech diver and his skills are going to be put to good use.
We briefed at 0900 for a split mission today. Pat, Bill Belcher, Derek and Jo Schumacher would go to Police Hill along with the 60 Minutes crew. Everyone else would be on the water trying to get eyes on all the good targets that were discovered during the SSS review at Scripps/UDel. Eric and Shannon from Scripps would join Joe, Nell, Dan, Dave, Casey and me for another day on the water.
The Police Hill team reported that Jo got a great tour of the area where we think her uncle is. They got off the hill sometime after noon and stopped at The Bridge Bem Ermii for burgers and shakes and enjoyed a great view under the KB bridge.
Our boat team dove on four targets about halfway to Peleliu. Nothing but widely spaced coral outcroppings. Nothing person-made (Damn you, Bill Belcher). The ocean bottom there resembles a desert more than an ocean bottom. But at least it was only 70 feet deep instead of the 100+ we’ve been doing. And the visibility was much better than where we’ve been.
The boat team then went to the southern side of Ngeruktabel and we dove a wall and a future void area for the AUV. The AUV hasn’t gone down here yet, but it is in the plan for Scripps/UDel. Although we saw pretty fish on this dive, and the water was a lot clearer, we did not see any man-made objects.
We had one more target to look at on the way home. Andy from Scripps said there was a pipe-looking thing right off the dock in the harbor. In about 100 feet of water. So three of us went down to it and it turned out to be another large mooring system that was put in by the Imperial Japanese Navy. It consists of two very large anchors, a very large mooring ball and very large chain connecting them all together. I believe these systems were big enough to hold a battleship in place.
Back a few years, the USNS Safeguard, a Navy salvage ship, came to Palau with a Navy MDSU team (Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit). They were tasked with bringing up an anchor that was a hazard to navigation in the harbor. When they started to bring it up from the muck, that’s when they found out it was the entire mooring system with chain, another anchor and the mooring ball. One of those previous anchors is now in a park by the water on the north side of Malakal.
Back to port, cleaned up, out to dinner, no mission scrub with Scripps and everyone went to bed early. Pat and Derek went to the airport to pick up Robin Hogg. She is bringing the ashes of her father, Bill Cantrell, a Marine F-4U pilot who was based on Peleliu, back to Palau. He passed away last November and his last request was to have his ashes scattered over the waters around Peleliu. That will take place in a few days.
Typhoon update. We’re going to get lots of rain. It started at midnight, and there’s some wind, but nothing we can’t deal with. Once the red flags in the harbor go up all boat ops cease. (Just to give everyone a warm fuzzy, I’m writing this Sunday morning the 6th. The red flags are up, the Stockbridge Team scrubbed the day and all the teams are just hanging out doing stuff. But if I give it all away now, what will I have to write about tonight?
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 25 – 2014
06 April 2014
Here’s what everyone wants to know. The typhoon isn’t. Not even a big wind today. I ate lunch and dinner on a covered outdoor patio during rain showers.
Palau’s weather on Sunday and forecast for Monday:
Sunday: Over 150mm of rainfall and light to moderate winds occured on the island on Sunday. No damage reports being seen at this time.
Monday: Gale force winds still along eastern sea boards but rainfall will taper off along with gradually improving conditions throughout the day.
Mark Swank arrived tonight. He’s been a long time member of BentProp with a keen interest in Police Hill and the execution sites. He created a hypothesis that if you found a railroad crossing a road by a river, went a click up the road to an air raid shelter, make a 90 degree turn and go up to the ridge road, follow the ridge road to an old ammo dump you would find the execution sites which would include an L shaped trench. Well, we walked his hypothesis and it became a theory. Hopefully with Bill Belcher here, we can turn it into fact. Mark has come just for a few days to help with the searches.
Tomorrow will be a split-ops day. Some folks will go out on the boat and be searchers. Some folks will go with Mark and Bill to Police Hill. I think a couple of people are going to hike Arakabesan even without someone showing them where the airplane is and a couple of us will go out with the Stockbridge team.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 26 – 2014
Toys and distinguished visitors
07 April 2014
Split ops today. Mark Swank, Bill Belcher, Dan, Jo, Robin and Dave went up to Police Hill. They visited Mark’s bread crumb trail of clues through the jungle that led him to the area we suspect the executions took place. They also surveyed the areas that we call A and B. Tomorrow, Bill will start in earnest with some shovel excavations and test pits. They also went to Bridge Bem Ermii for shakes. Not that they brought back any for the rest of us, if you get my meaning.
Everybody else but me went on a boat and started checking more void areas by means of SCUBA. I met up with them for lunch and they told me about a rip-roaring current that really carried them along a channel. Sounded like fun so I was glad I could get back to the boat for the afternoon.
In the morning, I stayed back to be the BentPropper deployed with Stockbridge. The typhoon had past us and the weather actually got worse at 11am, Bob Richards called it a day and sent the kids off to accomplish stuff. And of course the weather subsided enough that they could do a mission, but the team was to far afield to bring them back.
So I joined the water team. We’re checking the parts of the channel by the reef walls that the AUV cannot get to. Pat, Derek and Joe had first shift and caught a nice current and went quite a ways. They only saw old car tires. Casey, Rick and I did the next part of this channel. When we got in, I certainly didn’t feel any current. I had to work to make forward progress. Then all of a sudden, we picked up speed and really started cruising. I was doing my scan of the bottom from left to right. Casey was on my left and by the time my scan got back to him, he was gone. As it turns out, the cut (canal without locks) in the long island had a current in it going away from us and it sucked Casey in. Rick and I noticed he was gone and stopped. He didn’t come back so we continued on course. Then the current really picked up. We spotted a few things along the way.
Joe found a fishing pole and Flip found a machine gun.
Okay, it was a toy. But with the sediment and coral on it,
Flip had a few people questioning it.
Before we went in, Rick remarked about how someday he’d like to drift under the Koror-Malakal bridge. Well, we did. And the current kept us going almost to Arakabesan. Under the bridge we slalomed past the current bridge pilings, and the old ones they did not take out. It was a very fun dive for not seeing much of anything.
During happy hour, we played rock/paper/scissor and the winner from all of us got to pick the location for dinner. I won and we went to The Taj. A great meal as usual.
Rick and Mark
Dan and Bill
I found out that our rental car’s rear side window fell out during the day. The repair side of the rental car company came and took the car away for a repair. At least he said he was from the car company. The car did make its way back to us the following day.
The weather isn’t the best out here, but we keep on working. If no one had mentioned the word typhoon, we probably would have worked through it as well.
Pat and Casey went to the airport pretty early to greet Governor Perry and his crew. His wife and daughter came with him, along with Darcy and Kay Anderson, R.V. Bergin and his daughter Terrie. Once they got a chance to put their feet up, the Governor was going to go up to Police Hill and see what was going on up there. And the entire Texas crew would join us for dinner with the Stockbridge team.
I was once again scheduled with the Stockbridge students. We briefed at 0700 and they told me to be at the dock ready to push off at 0830. And we did. Steve Ballinger from Cleared Ground came along to see one of the underwater vehicles in action.
The little bowling ball looking thing may be useful to him in checking out wrecks and the ocean bottom for UXO. The students demoed the Deep Tracker (It really has a name.) for him on a reef. They only got the cable caught twice on the bottom so I got to see pretty fish while snorkeling to unhook it. They figured out a buoy system on the fly to keep the cable off the bottom. Steve saw how easy it is to maneuver the craft with a cable that sank and a cable that floated.
After a bit of that, we took Steve back to Neco. We went back out to a real target. One of the Scripps/UDel developed ‘interesting’ things in the harbor. Although the rain clouds were threatening, the students wanted to go out and find something. We got to the lat/long, dropped a buoy in and tried to anchor the boat. And tried. And tried. That part of the harbor is a really flat, silty bottom without much of anything solid for the anchor to grab hold of. After a goodly number of tries, we called it a day. The students were flying out that night and hadn’t planned on even a half day mission. But they squeezed one in. We went back to Neco, and just as we sat down for lunch, the clouds opened up and a deluge descended on us. Timing, as they say, is everything. After lunch, they went off to start packing and shipping equipment back to Michigan. They did have a photo shoot with OTV in mid afternoon. Then at 7pm would be our farewell dinner.
Meanwhile, the rest of our intrepid explorers were out on Police Hill and on a boat. The Police Hill people reported that the area around what we thought was a burn pit, turned out to be another trench. And the 55 gallon drum that was set into the ground probably just held fuel for the burn pit that was near it. So the area is exciting for our archeologist, anthropologist and our deep thinker into what happened up there.
Our boat people went back into the channel we did the other day. The one with the really swift current. This time we did the opposite side of the channel. No real current to speak of and absolutely awful visibility. I joined this team for the afternoon. We did another two dives in the channel. We saw a turtle and not much else. We then went to Nargol Island to see if we could spot a wing from the water. A Palauan reports that you can see it. He just didn’t remember exactly where along the island it was. But we took a chance. And of course you know the results. We didn’t see anything. Then for a late afternoon fun excursion, we went to the Jake seaplane dive spot. One of the producers from Traveling Picture Shows is a new diver and we gave her the chance for her first post certification dive.
Back to the house, got cleaned up and then we hosted the students to their farewell dinner at The Longshoremen Restaurant. It’s just our way of saying thank you to a great bunch of explorers. This was their only chance to meet Governor Perry and his group. We had a wonderful dinner, the speechifying was spot on and the students gave us presents as well. We all now sport Stockbridge Underwater Robotics t-shirts in the 2014 colors.
We did not do a mission scrub with Scripps/UDel as it was a bit late to start one. And it really didn’t matter as tomorrow would be our big trip to Peleliu.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 27 – 2014
Peleliu: The last flight of Bill “Nose” Cantrell; R.V. revisits the battlefield.
09 April 2014
Yesterday was a great trip to Peleliu. We had two very compelling reasons for going. First, we were returning Billy “Nose” Cantrell, LCOL, United States Marine Corps, back to his battlefield from World War Two. “Nose” was a Marine aviator who flew Corsairs off of Peleliu. He survived the war and passed away last Thanksgiving. One of his last requests was to have his ashes scattered over the waters of Peleliu. Robin his daughter escorted him to Peleliu and the ceremony that we would be attending was the public celebration of his return.
Our second reason for going to Peleliu was due to one of the V.I.P. guests onboard the boat, R.V. Burgin. He is a Marine who led a mortar section during the war, made landings all over the Pacific including Peleliu and Ngesebus. Ngesebus is a small island right next to Peleliu. This was the shortest amphibious operation of the war. The landing craft left Peleliu, crossed a couple of hundred yards of channel and made the landings on Ngesebus. If you saw the HBO miniseries The Pacific, you met him. This trip was his first return to Peleliu since the war and he had a desire to return to Ngesebus to see the bunker he took out. His daughter Terrie was with him to experience his return.
The rest of our entourage consisted of Governor Perry and his family, Darcy and Kay Anderson, Eric Terrill from Scripps and his family, a few more folks from Scripps and some more folks who really packed the dive boat. But not everyone in BentProp went to Peleliu.
We also had folks up on Police Hill. Mark and Jolie continued their work up there rather than head to Peleliu. Their time on island is very limited so they kept their noses to the grindstone while we went on a tourist outing. It rained on them a bit, but they were able to poke around a bit more. Nothing earth shattering has come from their searches. Yet.
The Peleliu crowd planned to push off the dock at 0730. This was Casey’s operation. Moving a company sized group, BentProp, Texas contingent, Civic ActionTeam (CAT), movie production company and others that can’t be grouped easily, is always a challenge. Casey had a plan and we tried our best to help him complete it. And the day came off without a hitch even though we had to make some adjustments.
Robin and Nell went to Peleliu via helicopter. Matt from Belau Air graciously offered to use the helicopter to spread Billy’s ashes. And since he was going down there anyway…..Robin got a taste of what her father saw when he was flying around the Palau islands when it wasn’t so safe.
It was pouring rain off and on in Koror. We left Neco Marine and the rain did not stop until most of the way to Peleliu. But then the sun came out for the rest of the day and it did not rain on us again until a little sprinkle on the way home. As I said out there, “today, God is a Palauan Marine.”
The first glitch was due to the weather. The ceremony was going to take place in a pavilion near South Dock on Peleliu. But the sea state was pretty rough. Casey had been in contact with Des, a tour operator on Peleliu that BentProp has known for years. He’s the one who made the call to shift debarkation locations. So we all docked at North Dock and Des had enough transportation to get us all to South Dock.
Once at the pavilion, the ceremony commenced. In addition to all those who came down in our little armada, the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, Jr. and Governor Temmy Shmull of Peleliu joined Governor Perry and Pat Scannon on the dais for the ceremony. A large number of residents from Peleliu were also in attendance. Cleared Ground Demining had a large contingent of folks as they were intimately involved in the Ngesebus trip. There was an especially colorful group of red shirted women in their own special seating area.
Derek was the M.C. He introduced the speakers on the dais and kept us on track throughout. Pat spoke first to set the tone of why we were all here. Governor Shmull gave his thanks on behalf of the people of Peleliu.
Governor Perry spoke from the heart commemorating Billy “Nose” Cantrell
and celebrating the relationship between Palau and our country.
The President had declared that since Billy would be here forever more, he was now a Palauan. Robin addressed the crowd expressing her appreciation for all that everyone has done to make this happen.
Casey read from the poem For The Fallen, which we read at each flag ceremony we do. Although I’ve sent this to you before, it’s always worth repeating:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Robin and Dan O’Brien headed to the airfield. After everything was setup on the helicopter, and everyone was in position along the southern point of the beach, Matt launched with Billy “Nose” Cantrell on his last mission over Peleliu.
Matt flew past the crowd, came about south of Peleliu and flew north along the reef. Right in front of the crowd, Billy’s ashes were scattered and he rejoined Palau forever.
Although some folks came to Peleliu just for the ceremony, all of us tourists also came to see R.V. back on his battlefields. Our next stop was Orange Beach. This is where he came ashore. We parked the vehicles, and walked past the Wildcat Division’s memorial markers and watched as R.V. set foot on Orange Beach for the first time in 70 years. As he said to us earlier in the day, ‘Last time I didn’t need a passport to get here.’
He had a chance to walk the beach and tell us a bit about his experiences. Des had his picture book that he uses to talk about the invasion and R.V. could appreciate the photos since he most likely was in one of them.
Back into the vehicles and everyone went to the Peleliu museum. This museum is housed in a Japanese built concrete building built during the war. The walls are exceptionally thick. But it was taken out by a direct hit of a 16 inch round from a battleship. The holes that shell created are now windows in the structure. The museum holds mostly battlefield memorabilia as well as photos and maps of Peleliu. Many items are from veterans who have sent things to the museum for their use.
Well, everyone except BentProp went to the museum. We had one more task for Billy’s return to Peleliu. We went off away from the crowds and found a private, protected quiet spot and dug a little hole. Robin had authorized us to set a bit of Billy permanently into the grounds of Peleliu. A place where he will be able to rest in peace.
We also know that Billy’s drink of choice was Bombay Sapphire Gin. So with our glasses held high, Billy had one more sip of gin and we saluted a great friend. We closed the hole, placed a flower on top and headed back to the crowd.
We caught up to the group at the Marine Memorial. R.V. and Terrie were being well taken care of in our absence. But we had to move on. We had to stick to our timetable for a very good reason. Tides. Our trip over to Ngesebus is not very far: about 200 yards straight across the channel. However, it is a very shallow channel. If the tide was out, we wouldn’t be able to make it. If it went out while we were there, the boats might not get back out in a timely manner. But no assault should happen on an empty stomach so we had lunch at North Dock. The VIP contingent had a tablecloth setting on the dock set up by the Peleliu Governor. The tourists in the group had cheeseburger sack lunches. Best damn cheeseburger I’ve had in awhile!
When all was ready, we boarded the boats and crossed for our invasion of Ngesebus. This island isn’t on the tourist map. It really hasn’t been cleaned up at all. So no one goes there. Our V- hulled boats could not get all the way to the island. Everyone was going to get a little wet wading the final 10 yards getting there. R.V. was saying how he would stay in the boat. Derek and Casey, in true Marine fashion, thought that ‘HEY!!! he came all this way after 70 years, a little water shouldn’t stop him.’ So without any fanfare, they waded to R.V.’s boat, and brought him ashore with a two-man carry. Of course I wasn’t set up to take a picture, so maybe someone on Facebook captured it. If anyone finds a photo, feel free to send it to me.
But to condense the story, Bill Belcher says “If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it. If you do know what it is, don’t touch it.” And as they say in National Parks everywhere “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
Steve and Cassandra from Cleared Ground, along with their crew, cut a trail 200 yards long through this battlefield right to the bunker R.V. destroyed during the war. I know I can’t do the story justice, but the gist is this bunker was a serious problem that the ground Marines needed to destroy. R.V. ran back to the beach, got an LVT with a B.A.G. (Big Ass Gun) and had the bunker pierced. Then they dealt with the Japanese soldiers that now found the bunker uninhabitable.
Cleared Ground made a safe path through the battlefield. On the path, it was UXO free. Outside of the stakes that marked the path, there was all sorts of stuff. And lots of it.
R.V. told us his stories along the path and at the bunker. Past the bunker Cleared Ground made a small trail loop that showed more military hardware abandoned during/after the war.
Someone from the great state of Texas created a great moment for R.V. and Casey by laying claim to the bunker one more time.
We left Ngesebus in stages. Those that wanted to see the 1000 man cave took the first boat out while the rest of us waited for R.V. to finish his tour. Once again, the boats couldn’t get all the way to the beach and Casey and Derek did the honors for R.V.. I haven’t looked at my pictures yet so as I add photos to this, I’ll know if I captured the moment.
Back at Peleliu, we waited for the tourists to finish the 1000 man cave and then we headed back. Everyone but R.V. and Terrie. Dave McQuillen and Steve Cypra hosted them for a night on the island. No film crews, no masses of tourists, no hustle and bustle of having a schedule. R.V. and Terrie had no pressing engagements until 1900 the next night. I have found that Peleliu at night is one of the quietest places on earth. You can hear a pin drop even if it was dropped up in Koror. It’s also the place that if you’re going to see ghosts, it will be there. But R.V. and Terrie were hosted by people who love Peleliu for what it was and is today.
For those of us returning to Koror, a trip to Peleliu wouldn’t be complete without a swim call. Even though we were not hiking the jungles of Peleliu on searches, it was still hot and humid and this break was a welcome cool down. Joe took us to a small protected reef where we could swim, look at pretty fish and not get bounced around by wind and waves.
Back at home plate, all the guest scattered. BentProp got cleaned up and went to Krämers for dinner. Coincidentally, Rene the owner was putting on a presentation of his latest yachting adventure.
The good news is everyone lived. The bad news is the sailboat is a loss on a charted reef that is supposed to be hundreds of meters deep. This happened somewhere between Borneo and Mindanao. He had beautiful pictures of the islands he sailed past and of the nature that surrounded him. He also obtained a few photos from the rescue vessels after the boat went aground. Those were heart-wrenching. He told the story of rescue, pirates, attempted recovery of the boat and finding it trashed and stripped.
In the big scheme of things as he said, that was all just stuff. Nobody lost their life. But it’s sad to know the owners of the boat lost their home and a big investment.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014
P-MAN XVI Update # 28 – 2014
Newly discovered shipwrecks. Once more to the Corsair.
10 April 2014
Split, split ops today. Governor Perry addressed a joint session of the Palauan National Government and a number of our BentProppers went to the capitol to hear him speak. I wasn’t in attendance so we’ll need to wait for someone else to post to the BentProp website their review of the event.
We had a small contingent still working on Police Hill. Some more clearing was done and we’re getting a better impression of how the land looked back in 1944-45. Still no firm evidence yet, but once again, we’re in the long game on this one.
I was the only BentPropper on the water this morning. Somebody has to pay the bills around here. I joined Eric, Mark and Shannon from Scripps/UDel to dive the northern channel leading in from the east into Palau Harbor. One of the reports from the war was of a downed B-24 near an “east west channel.” And looking at geographic features from the air while being shot at makes some of the reports subject to interpretation. Today, we can look at Google Earth and see a lot of things that we could call an east west channel. So we have to dive them.
Eric and Shannon used the Navigator to really search the middle of the channel while Mark and I searched in the notch on the southern side. The channel bottom ranges from 35 feet to 90 feet in depth. But the visibility was really good and we didn’t have to go much below 60 feet to see the bottom in places.
I saw one tire. A bunch of starfish. A lot of sand. But I did get to see Mark’s underwater light in action on some coral.
Although the wind was really blowing, the wave action inside the protected harbor wasn’t too bad.
We elected to assign the rest of the channel search to BentProp on another day. From the REMUS vehicle, there were a few ‘interesting’ things we saw in our last evening review. So we went to the southern side of this whole area and went down with the Alien Finder. We found what we saw on the SSS images, but they were just coral outcroppings. We did see some interesting ‘cabbage’ coral prior to coming up.
Somewhere in this area there is a report of a plane down. Not exactly sure where, but if we can find a lead, it will help narrow the search area.
The plan for the afternoon was to go out to the Corsair with Governor Perry and Marcus Luttrell. I finally met Marcus at Neco Marine during the lunch break. The camera does not do him justice. He is still a lean looking SEAL. A big man. His very public story is compelling. It was going to be a pleasure to dive with him. Unfortunately, as we experienced out in the harbor, the wind was up and in the wrong direction for diving that site. Unlike the harbor, the Corsair site is 6 miles out from the harbor. Still inside the barrier reef, but not enough to tame the waves. The wave action wouldn’t bother Marcus, but it would not be fun for the rest of us so the Corsair was put off until the next morning. But we didn’t have any targets to dive on. Rather than burn daylight waiting for us to get targets, the Texas contingent went out in their boat to explore Palau’s beauty in areas that were not so rough.
We went over to Coral Reef to see if we could develop targets. We got Mark and Paul to go over some SSS files and decided that our best bet was to finish off the channel that we had started earlier in the day. The plan was to start at the mouth of the channel and ride the last of the incoming tide to help speed up the search. Me, Dave, Rick and Casey would take the southern side of the channel and Joe, Pat, Derek Mark would take the northern side. Oops. We got in the water late and had to swim up current to do our searches. Our first clue was that all the fish were pointing into the harbor when they should be pointing out, and the string corals were acting like weather vanes in the wrong direction. So this was more exercise than we usually want to do.
And once again, we saw not much. I saw a shark and some starfish. There was a glimmer of hope when Joe found some cloth at the bottom, but it turned out to be a pair of pants. Pat thought initially he found a parachute, but it turned out to be sail material.
For our next dive, a few of us popped down on a point target Mark saw in the SSS files. It was just coral.
When we were all done, we headed back to port. We debriefed the day back at the house, got cleaned up and went to a Palauan hosted dinner at The Palau Cultural Center.
The dinner was to welcome The Perry family: Governor Perry, his wife Anita and his daughter Sydney, The Luttrell family: Marcus and his wife Melanie and RV and Terrie Burgin. Pat as BentProp founder got an honorable mention as well. And so did Robin Hogg, Billy Cantrell’s daughter.
A lot of Palauan society came out for this. There of course was some speechifying. The speakers included the President of Palau, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Governor Perry. Gifts were exchanged and it was announced that by Joint Proclamation of the OEK (the national government), Governor Perry was made an Honorary Citizen of Palau.
Then the meal started and we were treated to all sorts of Palauan foods. Very good and lots of it. We were given a demonstration of traditional boys and girls dancing. And music by a Palauan duo rounded out the night. A good time had by all.
We did a quick mission scrub and Scripps has found four ships that were sunk close together. And it appears that no one else knows they’re there.
11 April, 2014
Early get up for everyone. Well, not everyone. Those going to Police Hill got to sleep in just a bit more. But since the Corsair dive pooped out yesterday, we put it on for this morning. Early. Unfortunately, Governor Perry developed some ear problems from the dive he did yesterday so the Texas contingent wouldn’t be joining us. But the production crew still wanted to go so we accommodated them. We left pretty close to on time from the dock and we planned to gear up in a protected area. The sea state was still pretty wavy. I can only imagine how much rougher it would have been yesterday.
When our little armada of boats formed up, we headed out. The sea was rough and knocked a few people off their feet. Okay, it knocked me off my feet. It did calm down a little over the Corsair, but the ocean was not flat there either. However, we knew it was going to be a good dive. We had a sign.
We got out on station at the correct lat/long and Joe dived in to place a buoy on the Corsair. No need to put this many divers down at one time to search for something. Joe popped his sausage and The BentProp divers went down.
We had one last moment for Billy Cantrell by having a group photo taken with this Corsair as the backdrop. Once that was done, the film crew came down and did their thing.
While the film crew did their thing, BentProp went back up to the surface. Pat lingered down there as they wanted to get some footage of him and the airplane. He came back up and hung on the side of the boat for awhile. Casey got geared up again and asked me to do the same. Our new dive plan was for three minutes, at five feet.
Pat was scheduled to go back to port, change into his jungle clothes and join RV Burgin and Governor Perry for some work up at Police Hill. One of the scheduled items was a Cleared Ground Demolition of some of the munitions they’ve collect. RV was given the change to make something really go boom again. When I saw him driving off from Neco at the end of the day, he had that little kid on Christmas morning look on his face. His high powered smile overwhelmed the car.
However, Pat thought it better to stay calm and not rush around so he stayed on the boat much to the delight of the film crew because that meant they could capture him on the B-24.
However, before we left, we had some guests to get onto the Corsair. The CAT Team came out in their boat (I know what you’re thinking. ‘Hey Flip. Aren’t these Air Force guys? Do they even have boats in the Air Force?). Some of their members got scuba qualed just so they could dive with us. But we had one tactical error. Someone didn’t get the memo to keep the sausage on the Corsair until the CAT team splashed in. Although we put them out right where the last divers surfaced, they had drifted enough to miss the mark. We’ll have to bring them back another day as this is a protected site and we cannot give away the location without the Palauan President’s approval. And we had to stick to our timetable for the day.
However, we knew the B-24 would not have as much wind and waves and we could anchor over it so they came with us to that dive site. It’s also protected by Palauan law so this would be everyone’s chance to see it.
We got in and I led the way for the CAT team. Rick came along with us and Dan took up the rear to keep herding us forward. We didn’t want to linger too long as the film crew was going to follow us for their shot sequences. I didn’t get any good enough photos from the B-24, but I did get this:
Before we left the B-24 site, we found out that the Texas team was still not dive ready, so we went back to port to grab a snack and then went back out to see one of the ships that Scripps/UDel found.
It appears this is a steel framed, but wooden hulled ship. Pat found evidence of a bomb explosion going inward and burnt wood. It could be that the airplane we’re looking for, that went in 3/4 of a mile from this location, after a 20 degree bombing run at mast head level might have been attacking this ship and its sister ships that are down within 1/4 of a mile. We haven’t seen a rivet of this airplane, but maybe this is the first bread crumb in the trail.
The reason we were on a tight schedule is that we were invited onto the R/V Roger Randall Revell for a tour and heavy pu pus. R/V stands for research vessel and is a NOAA ship operated out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Most of the Scripps people make scientific deployments on her each year. The ship has a crew of 21, can accommodate 39 scientists and cruises the world’s oceans conducting experiments of all kinds.
Evan from Scripps flew his octocopter off the fantail and flew to the delight of all. After our tour, we had a light meal and had a scrub brief with Scripps for what they saw in the SSS files. Looks like we do not have any targets for tomorrow.
I had to leave the brief early as Mark Swank had an early evening flight out. We’ll miss Mark. He could not stay in Palau very long, but he certainly helped reveal more about the Police Hill execution sites.
Everyone else departed the ship when the brief was over. Pat took Nell to the airport for her oh-dark-thirty departure. That must be one of those father-daughter things.
Rick Smith and Josie Ling departed as well. Rick couldn’t give us much time this year, but he was full on when he was with us.
Robin Hogg left also. She is ecstatic about her father’s send-off and I think we’ll hear more about her before too long.
All photos © Flip Colmer2014