2011 BentProp Progress Report # 33

P-MAN XIII Update #33 - Helicopter scouting. Mangrove crawling. Scaring the customers at Krämer's. Watching Paul Collins dive. Rain.

07 April

An interesting day. We found stuff.

In the morning Wesley, Molly, Dan and Flip took a helicopter ride to look over the mangrove we were intending to explore this afternoon. We were not in a hurry to get out there as the tide would not be low enough for us to see the mangrove floor until the afternoon. The group thought why not use Matt's great offer from Belau Helicopters to take a look and see if we could see anything. This has occasionally worked in the past for land targets, but so far never for the mangroves, and I wasn't expecting it to work for us today. I thought why not go for a wonderful sightseeing ride around Palau. Better than staying in the hotel room waiting for the tide to go out.

We all went to the building that the helicopter stages off of. Yes, I said "off of". Matt uses the roof as his heli-base and his office is on the first floor. While the four of us climbed the stairs to the roof, Pat and Derek went to interview Melvin. Melvin has seen a lot of stuff over the years and he shared his stories with Pat and Derek. The entire time we were gone on our helicopter ride, Melvin provided some good information to the Pat and Derek. I think we have two, possibly three days of work generated by that one interview. We plan to start the work with Melvin on the 9th.

Meanwhile, the airborne crowd went north and started flying over the mangrove. Dan was using the video camera for overall track coverage and Wesley and Flip were shooting stills if and when we saw something. Molly was working the GPS. We went back and forth a few times, all the while thinking how nice it is to be airborne taking this tour. Then we saw it. One big piece, high in the mangrove limbs. Then another. All in all, I think we spotted three or four pieces. All of these pieces arrived in this mangrove when a Marine Corsair was shot down. We previously found some debris a bit west of where we spotted these pieces so our debris field just got bigger. This is exciting. Not only expanding the debris field, but seeing that you can find something in the mangroves from the air. The pieces we found were most likely light weight and were lifted from their resting spots as the mangrove grew. A few years ago we found an entire Avenger wing that had started out lying in the mud when the aircraft was shot down, but over the years had been lifted completely out of the water as the surrounding mangrove trees grew taller.

Slow flight and hovering puts quite a strain on the helicopter's engine in these hot and humid conditions. When the oil temperature light lit, we stopped our hovering and started back. The light went out soon after that, and nothing untoward happened. We disembarked back on the roof of the hotel, found Pat and Derek, and got their debrief.

Matt in his office.

Possible ancient Palauan land structure.

Nature in its glory. Wanna go for a hike?

Do you see the piece of airplane in the high branches?

You can see this one.

The ride home.

More riding.

Matt returns us to his roof-top ground office.

Back at the hotel, we fixed some lunch and reviewed the photos and video. Then we piled into the van and headed to the mangrove. We entered about 3-ish, and left about 5:30-ish. We never could find the pieces that we had spotted from the air, but we found many more pieces on the floor of the mangrove and some a bit higher in the branches.

Aluminum. Rivet holes. Lightening holes. It all adds up to: airplane parts.

This really is exciting stuff for us. But explaining moving through the mangroves is a bit tough. You don't actually walk through them. More like crawl, wriggle, limbo and/or brute force. Think of a jungle gym with bars going in every direction, no two branches perpendicular and no two parallel. You measure distance traveled in feet and hours.

Father Derek and son Wesley take a stroll in the mangroves.

Corsair parts.

Corsair parts.

Corsair parts.

After exiting the mangrove, we met one of the local residents who provided us with a cold barley pop and then we headed out to our dinner engagement.

Mangrove mud. Cannon. Barley pop. No, you don't want to know what Dan's doing.

We were late coming out of the mangrove so we drove fast, didn't stop to clean up, and took ourselves in all our mangrove--mud-stained glory into Krämer's. The special at dinner was ceviche which most of us had. But we did notice that all the other dining patrons gave us a wide berth.

Getting late. Gotta hurry to Krämer's.

Tomorrow the 8th, we're going diving with Paul Collins. He's the one who came over to chat with us about LIDAR. He's also an experienced technical diver so he's going to dive on some of the deeper targets that our February mission discovered. Paul Schwimmer sent us some pictures from the Yankee Air Museum of the cockpit and nose arrangement of a B-24 that is undergoing restoration. He says what was drawn by the Navy diver who went down on the target looks oddly like the structures he was seeing on this B-24. Thank goodness we're here to check out this lead that Paul Schwimmer helped to discover.

08 April

Today started with a quick breakfast, a quick brief with Paul and out the door to the boat. We drove about 20 minutes to the target Paul Schwimmer wants us to dive. We clumped it, Paul Collins went down on it and we waited. Paul has a rig with lots of air. Normally he uses a rebreather setup, but that's down for maintenance so he's using big bottles of Nitrox. He told us he would be gone an hour at the most.

Paul on deck. Molly appears to really like Paul's...tanks.

Paul being handed his camera.


After Paul got back on deck, he told us the object is heavy metal. Most likely iron, not aluminum. Although there are some features that could look like latticework, it was not a cockpit area. There definitely was a crater around this object, and another crater not too far away. It had metal stuff in it as well. Paul said that in this type of bottom, anything that drops in it will make a crater. Even our three pound weight we dropped for our buoy made a crater. In any case, this is most likely not an airplane at all, but maybe something from a ship that the salvagers missed.

We motored over to our next target, which was a very strong SSS image north of "the Jake," a well-known nearly intact Japanese float plane that sits upright on the bottom north of Arakabesan. We clumped it and broke out the lunch. Paul needed some more surface time before he could head down on his next dive. Before he was ready, a rain storm engulfed us. A steady rain started and did not let up for the rest of our day on the water. Paul timed out and said he'd rather go under since it would be warmer. Down he went and in just under an hour, up he came. During that time, a very surreal setting developed. It was so calm the water looked like a lake. The steady rain obscured all sight of land. Visibility extended essentially to the edges of our boat.

Post-dive debrief.


Paul came up and said this was a coral mount. Nothing man-made about it. A bit odd that it's all by itself. But it is not built upon a wreck. Too bad. But at least we now know another place not to look.

Today's lessons wre:

  1. What we think is natural may not be
  2. What we think is man-made may not be
  3. We're gonna have a lot of job security looking at individual items on the ocean floor.

We took Paul back to his ship, and decided to call it a day. Looks like it's gonna rain a lot, and who wants to get wet when you're sitting on a dive boat?

Back at the hotel. Dan and Molly started to review GPS and SSS files. Pat, Derek and Flip did some stuff in town for the team. Wesley...not sure what he did.

Paul Collins came over at 5 p.m. to show us the pictures he took on our targets. For target one, which was supposed to be a latticework structure, all he showed us was a big hunk of metal. Therefore, he did not find the piece that was found in February. We will return to find that piece.

For target two, Paul found the big underwater mount, but did not see the object that was on the southwest side of the mount. He just did not get that far away from the mount in the direction of the target. Therefore, we'll have to return there as well.

Not exactly sure when we'll get back there. Paul is taking out a live-aboard dive boat, so it may have to wait until next year. But we have some ideas to get these targets explored by trained professionals, even if we're not here when that happens. More on that later.

Tomorrow, we go out with Cut to see something he found north of Peleliu. Hopefully, it's something new and exciting.

- Flip

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