2014 BentProp Progress Report # 20

P-MAN XVI Update # 20 - 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.

Bill Belcher looking oh so serious

Bill's rebreather underwater system. I have gear envy.

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.

Coral Reef's Kemedukl enroute to the first ceremony

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.

Pat making the opening remarks.
All ceremony photos by Evan Walsh, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Starting to fold the flag.

Derek, Nell and Casey

Joe received the folded Palauan flag and handed it off to the flag bearer.

Both flags in the flag bearer's hands.

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.

The octocopter

Returning back aboard

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.

Bill in all his regalia

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.

Pat and Lori Colin

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.

Nell dressing the first flag.

Megan, Travis, Mark and Evan. Mark spoke from the heart as the representative of the University of Delaware.

Joe, Eric and Spyce. Eric was equally eloquent representing Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Shannon, Pat and flags for the families. Pat delivering the closing remarks.

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.

Nell drawing a B-24, our current high value target

- Flip

All photos © Flip Colmer2014

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