2014 BentProp Progress Report # 12

P-MAN XVI Update # 12 - Success, TBM-style!

25 March 2014

This is what success looks like:

Propeller and engine

Wing, aileron and coral fan.

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.

Sean helping Andy deploy the fish off the Kemeduuk of the Coral Reef Research Foundation.

The fish at work finding "interesting" stuff

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.

Pat and Dan Waiting to dive

Casey Getting ready to dive

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.

Pretty much screaming with joy.

The celebratory dinner we hosted for Scripps/UDel.

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.

Combined efforts coming together.

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)

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