P-MAN XVII Update # 14 - More dives. More fish. More coral. More no parts. Winding down.
12 April 2015
I can see that I was just a little sleepy when I sent the last report out. I left out a couple of fun facts. The Stockbridge Team dove their ROV down to 189 feet successfully! They have an event coming up in Michigan where they will have to get down to over 200 feet. They feel their bot can go to 300. On their last excursion for the mission, the robot was taken up to a freshwater lake on Bablethuap. They were told that no one knows how deep it is and that scuba divers were afraid to go down once the water got too murky. Something about crocodiles in there I guess. They were working up the plan to bring the bot through the jungle to the lake when the ranger, or conservation officer, who is in charge of the lake told them it was 12 feet deep. I guess the questionable depth of the lake is Palau's version of The Loch Ness Monster.
More fun facts. We definitely have consumed far fewer Oreos (Vitamin O) in our post dive recuperation regimen this year. We had a new treat on the boat, Alpaca jerky. Jennifer brought some from home and the last package disappeared a day or two ago. Alpaca jerky, the huggable treat. Along with Oreo consumption being down, our trips to Bem Ermii are down as well. That may not hold enroute to the airport at 11:50pm for Pat, Dan and Jennifer and 01:50 for me. But so far, not as many milkshakes as in years past.
Today we split up. Pat went with the DPAA guys to show them last year's find: a Hellcat and an Avenger. Drew, the archeologist asked for some orientation dives. They may not have the time to address both sites on this trip. Due to typhoons, aircraft malfunctions, the Japanese Emperor's visit, etc., their mission length has been shortened. But the more investigative/prep work they get done now, the easier it will be for the next team.
Meanwhile, Joe, Dan O'Brien, Jennifer and I went up to the Ngatpang Bay area. We were going to meet up with Dwi. Last year, Sorrence (Charlie the boat driver's cousin) took us to where he said he said he had seen an airplane. He went snorkeling like aquaman from coral head to coral head but could not find what he was looking for. When Charlie called his other cousin, Dwi, he said Sorrence was looking in the wrong area. He would have showed us where to look last year but the tide was out and his boat was high and dry. And it was our last day last year. So Dwi met us today. He had the whole family out for a Sunday morning fishing excursion.
He looked, pointed, spun the boat around and told us through Joe and Charlie that it's around here somewhere. And he didn't exactly say he saw it. He said he was spearfishing and saw 'something' below him in the murk that looked man made and he assumed it was a skogi (skogi is Palauan for airplane). Well, this is a bit thinner. Except there are some airplane parts on top of the coral reef right outside Ngatpang Bay. One of the parts is a cylinder head from a radial engine. Call me crazy, but if an airplane loses one of those, I'm guessing the rest of the airplane isn't too far away.
Then Dwi said he knows of a plane on top of one of the islands at the mouth of Ngatpang Bay. There is another airplane inside the mouth of the bay on land and he assured us he was talking about a different airplane. If you draw a line between Dwi's murky shaped coral head area, the parts on top of the coral and this island, you could make a case that something happened here. there are reports of missing airplanes with no clue as to where they went down.
Dan, Jennifer and I snorkeled Dwi's coral head. Good looking fish, nice coral, not too deep. Probably not the right place.
When we were done there, we headed to the parts location. Back in 2002, the last time we saw these, we thought they were Corsair parts. One of our new team members saw what few photos we had and said he thought that maybe they were Kingfisher parts. We have more photos for him to look at. It was nice to see that there was a lot of new coral growth. The parts are being reclaimed into the ocean. Makes taking photos tougher. It might also mean that more of the airplane is under the coral, which means we might never see it again.
The last thing to do was to dive the channel east of the parts, and some low places in the reef west of the parts. Maybe we can find something else and establish a flight path. However, we needed 10 more pounds of scuba weights than we had on the boat. So, we headed to where we knew Pat and DPAA were. We borrowed a cup of lead weights, waited for Pat to finish with DPAA and took him back to Ngatpang Bay with us.
Our first dive was the channel leading into Ngatpang Bay. This naturally occurring channel is quite wide, steep walls, the transition zone from coral/rock wall to sandy floor is at about 105 feet and the channel bottom continues a gentle slope down to 150 or more. I swam the notch at the transition zone, Pat was on the wall's cliff edge at about 60-70 feet and Dan was above on the coral slope. It was a fun dive. Great sea life, and we got to explore. And the visibility was greater than expected. But we didn't find any parts.
After a proper surface interval, Dan and I swam the low spots in the reef west of the aircraft parts. Nothing more than 45 feet, great sea life. No parts.
Back to home port. Cleaned up our gear and had dinner at The Drop Off. Met up with Margie and Dave of Bandidos Mexican Restaurant fame and got caught up on all the news that's not fit to print. Then, being told we looked whipped, we all went back to the hotel and called it an early night.
Tomorrow, the 13th, will be Dwi's Island Excursion and maybe one last scuba dive. But for that, you'll have to wait. Just in case I don't get to it before our wifi is cut off, my final field report will be written enroute to Tokyo and if this laptop will connect, I'll send it from there.
- Flip Colmer