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P-MAN XVII Progress Report # 7 - Another bittersweet flag ceremony; sea, air, and land ops.

27 March 2015

Today was another split-ops day. The water folks, Mickaila, Dan, Jennifer, Val and Blake snorkeled and dove along a row of small rock islands that forms the southern boundary of the lagoon where the Avenger parts have been found. No luck. But they did see pretty fish, a turtle and did not get blown out to sea. Always a good thing.

The land team, Derek, Pat, Joe and Flip, got to climb some steep hills and fight off some poison trees, but were rewarded with a small piece of aluminum. Some blue for coloration. Most likely aircraft. Nothing definitive, but it is a piece to the puzzle. And no other pieces were found.


The piece, in situ


Looking at the fasteners on the backside


From my perch on the island, this may be our next hiking adventure.

The boat picked us up and after the water group went one on one more dive, we called it a day.

Got together with Eric and Mark from Scripps and UDEL and strategized about where to look next with respect to the Avenger pieces we've found so far. They use their technological search solutions where appropriate and we snorkel and scuba where the voids are in the water. Voids being places the underwater vehicles might not see: up close to reef/island walls. We also hike up on the rock islands.

Derek's San Diego State University students were supposed to arrive tonight. However, as happens every so often, their flight from Hawaii to Guam got in late and the Palau flight was not held for them. Now they have a day to play/explore in Guam.

28 March

Today was a solemn, and joyous day. Solemn in that we held a flag ceremony in honor of the missing crew of the Helldiver we found. Joyous in that it commemorates the start of their journey home. All the teams that had a hand in making this happen participated: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Delaware, Coral Reef Research Foundation and The BentProp Project. We also had a few guests aboard, Ted Mikita and his family: wife Lucretia and children Tullula and Waverly. Ted's cousin was shot down in a B-24 in Palau. Pat had found the airplane, which is in pieces scattered around Koror, and has been telling Ted about it for the past year. Ted came out to see the airplane and try to find more pieces of it.


The Mikita family: Ted, Tullula, Lucretia and Waverly

We had three flags displayed during the ceremony: two American flags for the families of the crewmen and one Palauan flag to represent Palau.


Myles, Hunter, and Andy hold an American flag while Mark and Eric look on behind. Photos by Dan O'Brien


Pat Colin from the Coral Reef Research Foundation, Val (holding a second flag),
Jeff (and Jeff's wife and son to his immediate left). Megan and Myles hold the flag in front. Photo by Dan


Ted, left, helps Val hold the second flag. Photo by Dan


Joe holding the Palauan flag, Evan behind him. Photo by Dan


The whole crew after the ceremony was over. Photo by someone. Sorry, I forgot who!

We hold these flag ceremonies for a number of reasons. First, to honor the fallen crewmen once we find their airplane. We do it to commemorate the start of their journey home. We also do it for the families of the crewmen who are alive today. We do the research, search, discovery, and documentation of the MIA crash site. We don't know when the U.S. Government will be able to do the recovery and identifications of the crewmen. And that has to happen prior to notification of the families. But when all that happens, the families will get a flag, a copy of the video of the ceremony, and then we'll be happy to answer any questions they may have.

The ceremony is pretty simple. Pat tells the gathered group a bit of history surrounding the battle in Palau. He tells everyone what happened on the day this crew was shot down and went missing. The names are read. Anyone who would like to add comments for the family are welcome to do so. Then the flags are folded and given to someone to safeguard until the day these men are returned to their families. For this crew, LCDR Mickaila Johnston, USN will the the flag holder. And then we all go back to searching for the next MIA aircraft and its crew.


[Note from Reid: Flip sent this photo but it didn't make it into his report. I'm including it here
because I'm a total sucker for shots like this (I've taken a few myself) that convey to me
the intense and abiding respect that these ceremonies represent - respect for the fallen service members
and their families, respect and commitment among our team members, and respect for the strong bond
between the United States and our hosts and colleagues in the Republic of Palau.]

After the ceremony, we split back up into land and water teams. Derek, Pat, Joe, and Flip were still on hiking/climbing duty. Everyone else was on the boat.

If you look back at the previous report, you'll see two photos of two small rock islands. We climbed them both just to make sure no airplane parts were up there.


Derek on top of one of the islands.

In addition, we climbed a large island in this short chain of rock islands and also came up empty handed.

The water folks found lots of junk in the water. But no airplane parts. This Avenger is not easy to find.

Scripps, UDEL and BentProp got together for a celebratory dinner at The Taj. Great food and a good time with people who all get why it's worth it to expend this level of effort.

The San Diego State University Students arrived late tonight. They had to take an extra flight through Yap to get to Palau. But now they can start their adventure.

29 March

Today, the team split into three groups: Admin: Dan looking at low light video recordings of what some of the AUVs have been looking at and Pat was filling out a site survey form; Water, Val, Jennifer, Mickaila, Joe, Derek and his SDSU students went searching; Land, Blake and I joined Jolie to work on our Police Hill problem.

Since we found the Helldiver, it's kinda been non-stop action for us. However, Pat does need to submit a proper site survey form to DPAA. Today he took the time to do it. Dan reviewed hours of video that Scripps and UDEL have captured. Their underwater vehicles have a number of sensors that can be used to image the ocean bottom. But no matter what sensor is used, someone has to look at the output. Today, it was Dan. I don't think he saw anything actionable.

The water folks started out over at SIO/UDEL central. They got some intel of where to do searches today.


Mark pointing out stuff in the harbor. Photo by Val

After scubaing and snorkeling in the harbor, they took their surface interval time and put it to good use. They went and looked at the reported aircraft debris.


The newly uncovered wreckage. It appears to be
a Japanese aircraft wing, maybe a Betty bomber. Photo by Val.


Happy SDSU students, Jade, Jake and Olivia with their faculty facilitator Derek.
And on their first day they helped find something new!

Blake and I helped Jolie Liston do some archaeological work. We suspect some airmen, UDT frogmen, Jesuit missionaries and a local family were all executed in an area we call Police Hill. If you've been following our story over the years, you may remember that Mark Swank established a hypothesis that if we went to the bridge over a river with railroad tracks in it, went a bit this way to an air raid shelter, went up the hill to the ridge road, went down the road to the edge of the forest, we would find an ammunition depot. They were executed near there, then dug up, cremated and then transferred to a different piece of jungle and buried in an "L" shaped trench. A few years ago, we followed this bread crumb trail and found an L-shaped trench.

To dig in Palau on a site like this, you need a professional. And that is what Jolie is, a professional archaeologist. With Blake and me helping her, she cut a test trench perpendicular to the L-shaped trench. This was to take a look into the trench and see if she could tell if it had been dug before. She could not see any evidence of prior digging. But down close to the clay layer, was a burnt layer of charcoal. This was totally unexpected. We don't exactly know what this means, but it appears something was burned here. It might be nature, it might be man. She collected some soil samples and we're going to have them tested.


Jolie working her trench


Blake sifting while Jolie was digging


You can see the black layer indicating a burn layer


Blake using a Garrett AT Pro metal detector.
Garrett was kind enough to loan BentProp (via Blake)
a land and underwater metal detector.

While we were in the jungle, Evan from Scripps was flying a UAV octocopter over the jungle using some sensors to help us find things.


Start of an autonomous mission with Evan's UAV

The San Diego State University students are here conducting research projects. They are in the social sciences. Ted Mikita graciously accepted the students request for an interview. He has a unique point of view of families and their missing members.


Ted, Derek, Olivia, Jade and Jake.

The last BentProp member for this year was supposed to show up at 8 p.m. tonight. Warren Bruce, active duty Marine, will be getting in sometime after midnight. The airplane he's scheduled on needed some maintenance and it's going to delay Warren's arrival. But he already has an email telling him to be prepared for a 0700 brief for the day's festivities. Sleep fast, Warren!

- Flip Colmer

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