Dan O'Brien inn front of cargo container with supplies bound for MIA Recovery Mission in Palau.

Packing for Palau MIA Recovery Mission


August 7, 2021


Project Recover met with Legion Undersea Services to pack for our first MIA Recovery Mission in Palau later this year.

Our team members who went to Florida to spend the weekend packing for Palau were:

  • Dan O’Brien, Chief Financial Officer
  • Harry Parker, Digital Asset Manager & Photographer
  • Milt Douglas, Volunteer
  • Adam Gray, Volunteer

Legion Undersea Services principles were there to pack for the team:

  • John Marsack, Co-Founder, 
  • Nick Zaborski, Co-Founder
  • Alex Tumaniszwili, Director of Diving Operations

Let me begin by saying we are thrilled to embark on our first MIA Recovery Mission. Until recently, Project Recover focused exclusively on MIA Search Missions. In those missions, we search for underwater crash sites associated with MIAs. Once we find a crash site, we document the site and turn all the records over to DPAA for recovery and identification.

In  2020, however, Project Recover signed an agreement with DPAA to recover MIAs. This marked the beginning of expanding our MIssions to include MIA Recovery.

Currently, there are 80+ MIAs associated with crash sites Project Recover has located. This is the first of what we hope and plan to be many successful recovery missions.

Packing for Palau MIA Recovery Mission

Several team members spent a couple of days in Oakland, Florida, packing for the MIA Recovery Mission. Not the normal gear like toothbrushes and headlamps.

They spent two days packing a 20′ steel cargo container.

“This was the most intensive planning we’ve had to date,”  

said Dan O’Brien, Project Recover Chief Financial Officer.

Especially in a remote country, the team has to be prepared for every goal and every contingency. 

“We have to plan to be entirely self-contained for the duration of their three-week MIA Recovery Mission in Palau. That means all of the equipment, materials, and needs for a recovery mission. We also have to plan for every contingency knowing that we can’t go to the corner store to pick up the bolt we forgot or pick up a part that broke. it’s an exponential factor of ten,” said Dan.

Not Your Standard Packing List

To recover MIAs, the team needs the equipment, tools, and supplies for: 

  • Surface-supplied diving
  • Archaeological excavation of an underwater site
  • Barge-based excavation of airplane parts and salvage baskets
  • Administrative supplies to document and operate a remote barge-based operation
  • Redundancy so all the equipment and the mission as a whole remains functioning

Packing for Palau: Tetris

Packing for an MIA Recovery Mission is a mission unto itself. Project Recover and Legion Undersea Services had two steel cargo containers to fill. The first, a 15’ container, holds one piece of equipment: the divers’ decompression chamber.

The second, a 20’ container, holds everything else. Things like:

  • Tarps: We use tarps for salvaged aircraft parts. We then disassemble the parts to look for osseous materials. The tarps help us ensure everything stays contained. We also use them at the wet archaeological screening stations at the edge of the barge to guide the water off the barge and not on our feet. 
  • Air compressor pumps, motors, and hoses. We use these to:
    • supply the rebreather equipment for our divers and the decompression chamber
    • drive water pressure for dredging the crash site at 100’
    • drive the water to wash off debris
    • charge scuba bottles.
  • Kirby Morgan KM 37 Commercial Diving Helmets
  • Generators
  • Multiple power tools,
  • Buoys
  • Tape measures
  • So much more!

“We had to play Tetris to make it all fit,” said Adam.

“I don’t want to say we planned it perfectly, but let’s just say we couldn’t have fit another breath of air in that thing!” said John Marsack after they closed the container.

Hard Hat Diving: Maximizing Efficiency

While Dan was planning, preparing, and packing for every goal and every contingency, Nick and John were busy designing a completely new diving system, to maximize their workday efficiency. 

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There is a lot of thought that goes into preparing and packing for an MIA Recovery Mission. With tremendous effort and under tight time constraints, Legion developed a system with multiple air compressors that can run constantly and supply a steady flow of air to divers at depth as well as to divers in the recompression chamber decompressing from the last dive. 

Many hours went into the design, procurement, building, testing, and independent certification of the compressors, gas storage flasks, piping, pressure regulators, gauges, and interconnecting air hoses.

After weeks of stress testing the system and making improvements, Nick and John broke it all down and packed it up for shipment. 

The equipment is currently making its way across the Pacific. 

“We’re anxiously awaiting the day we get to break open that shipping container and start setting up our equipment to do the task it was designed to do.,” Nick said.

Legion is especially grateful to Divers Supply, Inc. in Louisiana, and especially to Rob Mistretta, Vice President of Diver Supply, who went above and beyond to help the project succeed.

Forming a Partnership in Real Time

Project Recover team members got a chance to meet and work with Legion Undersea Services for the first time packing for Palau MIA Recovery Mission.

Nick and John are former US Navy deep-sea divers who are very familiar with MIA Recovery missions. Three-quarters of Legion Undersea Services have participated in an MIA Recovery Mission before. Some worked on recovering MIAs associated with the Arnett B-24, a crash site Project Recover located which led to the repatriation of 8 MIAs.

“Working side-by-side and putting energy into forming the partnership in real-time is incredibly important. Every word, every action sets the stage for the rest of the mission, ”

said Harry Parker, Project Recover Digital Asset Manager, and Photographer.

Packing for Palau: Not Glitz and Glam

“Packing the cargo container is not the glitz and glam of going to Palau or Italy, but it still has to be done, it’s an integral part of the process,” said Adam Gray.

Adam has been with the team for a couple of years. When he shows up, he is 100% in. It was inspiring to see that kind of work ethic and helps us focus on what we are doing and why we are doing it,” said Harry.

Project Recover helped bring Adam’s great uncle ARM2-C Bud Rybazcyk home.  Adam dove on his great-uncle’s crash site in 2019 and became a Project Recover team member shortly thereafter. 

Reflecting back to when his uncle ARM2c Albert ‘Bud’ Rybarczzyk was repatriated, Adam said, ”It is so refreshing to see the community come together. It validates the overwhelming majority love this country and keeps me positive.”

Adam dove on his uncle’s crash site in 2019. 

“Sometimes civilians romanticize war. Seeing the wreckage, I began to imagine the morning they got on the plane, the smells, the hot metal, the hydraulic fluid.,” Adam said. “Every bit of freedom we get to enjoy was paid for by men and women who serve.”

Adam Gray

Meeting Col. Perry Dahl

When the Project Recover team finished with their packing,  Dan, Harry, and Milt set out to meet 98-year old WWII ace pilot,  Col. Perry Dahl, USAF (Ret.)

Col Dahl is a veteran, an aviator who flew a P-38 in World War II, and multiple other aircraft in Korea, and Vietnam, and is a family friend of Dan O’Brien. Dahl became an Ace pilot in World War II and is credited with destroying nine enemy aircraft. He retired from the US Air Force in 1975. 

Dahl embraced retirement with the same fervor he served his country. He bought a motorhome, a Jon Boat, and all the fishing and scuba gear he would need to keep himself and his wife happily entertained through decades of retirement. 

“It was a real thrill to meet him,” Harry said. “We search for MIAs who died at such a young age. We wonder about them and what their lives could have been. Perry was amazing; In addition to being fun, interesting, and inspiring, He also gave me context. I feel like I’ve made a connection with the people we’re searching for.”

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  1. Time is Running out - Donate Today
  2. Love this information. Our family had an Uncle, my great Uncle go down . He was based in New Guinea. Not much information available. Appreciate your efforts.

  3. Will there be an active search for B-24J-50-CO “Heaven Can Wait Don Ameche” Serial Number 42-73496, which was shot down near Ponape? On May 4, 1944 took off from Eniwetok Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Arthur W. Suojanen on a bombing mission against Ponape. When this bomber failed to return, the entire crew was listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

    A search effort, conducted by squadron commander Major Allen Wood commenced the next day, and all flight in that area were alerted to be on the lookout for the missing crew. On May 5, 1944, four B-24s from the 11th BG, 98th BS searched for this bomber in a sector 120 miles wide between Ponape and Eniwetok. They saw a Mae West life vest and oar at 8 12′ N163 0′ E at 5:00am, otherwise found nothing. The next day, four B-24s again searched a 60 mile area along the same route, coming within 30 miles of Ponape. They found nothing aside from a bleached out, empty life raft at 8 23′ N, 151 3′ E at 7:00am.

    Several days later, the regular Radio Tokyo broadcast in English (Tokyo Rose) stated that a B-24 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Ponape. This was the only B-24 that did not return from the mission and was the only B-24 lost during this period.