Update #8

Hello Everyone!

We’re in a tropical paradise and we got rained out today. So it must be time for lessons learned.

1. You’re never the only one who wants to stay high and dry.

2. Custom made camera dry bag, $500.00 Hefty Glad Trash Bag in the rain, priceless.

3. Eat sashimi when you can. You never know when the island will run out.

4. Never underestimate a local tip.

5. When it rains, do you really think the river won’t swell up?

6. Towards the end of the mission, even the Boss recognizes we all get weary.

7. To get a blood sample from a live crocodile, you have to be a real man or woman.

We went to breakfast and realized we have less than a week left on this year’s mission. We sat down and prioritized what we really wanted to accomplish. We have some good solid leads that developed both here, and from our trips to the National Archives. And we always run out of time, before we run out of targets. We decided to scratch some low probability searches, and concentrate our efforts where we are more likely to succeed. We also eliminated some side trips that would have been fun, but would have made us lose full days of searching.

We headed to the boat dock a little later than planned. We were going to return to a lagoon near by, split up and send 2 divers down to re-photograph the wing Dennis found (which we think is an Avenger) and send 4 folks up a ‘small coral island’ to look for pieces of this wreck. We have what we think is a linear debris pattern. That is if the pieces we have found so far are related to each other. So the smart thing to do is go back up each direction of the line and see what we can find. We have already searched on land in one direction and if we keep going that way, we get to Malakal Harbor. Dennis said he would search that for us.

Back the other way is a larger coral island, then a larger body of water and then the PPR Hotel on Arakabesan Island. The land searchers were going to start looking on the ‘larger coral island’.

As we approached the mooring point along the island, a nice gentle rain started. The rain drops were making some very interesting patterns on the surface of the lagoon. Reid and I started gearing up for our dive while our land bound buddies gathered their gear up. DOB mentioned how they might get wetter on land than we would in the water. DOB turned out to be right. Pat gave us a pep talk and really highlighted the fact we are all many weeks away from home, and tired even if we don’t recognize it. Pat really does have our best interests at heart.

Being supportive teammates, Reid and I said we would wait in the boat until all were safely ashore. Just wanted to be in a position to affect a rescue if someone fell into the water. IF you remember, the structure of these islands is like a scoop of ice cream sitting on top of an ice cream cone. The waves have undercut the coral island and sometimes the closest you can get to the water is 10 or 12 feet. If they fell off the island in their hiking boots with all their camera gear, GPS equipment, food stuffs, ruck sacks and the like, I wanted to be in close proximity so I could save the cameras, I mean my friends.

They got safely ashore and disappeared into the wet, dark, green jungle. The rain intensified. We entered the water and immediately noticed some fascinating natural phenomena. The rain drops hitting the surface of the lagoon looked different when viewed right at the surface. If you looked a few inches below, you could see the drops penetrate the surface. You could also see a mixing effect of the fresh rain water and the salty ocean water. Almost looked like salad oil swirling in water. Go 5 feet below the surface and the surface took on a look of the boundary layer between oil and vinegar in a Seven Seas bottle (no product endorsement fees were collected in the creation of this update).

Reid and I paddled across the lagoon, watched the rain intensify some more, let the air out of our buoyancy vests and down we went to 85 feet and an Avenger wing. Reid took a few pictures. We had hoped with only two of us floating around that the water would be clearer for better picture taking. It was siltier. Visibility was minimal. We did notice a few more interesting things about the wing which helped solidify in our minds what it was.

With Reid in the lead, and compass in hand, we headed out on a northerly direction to relocate a piece of the aircraft we had already found, but also searching the bottom for any more debris. After a couple of minutes of heading north, I got the distinct impression that Reid was paddling in a circle. The visibility was low, we were not able to see the bottom distinctly, and I was not flippering my flippers as I would if I were going straight. So, either I had a case of vertigo and thought we were going in a circle, or Reid was going in a circle and did not know it. I tapped him on the leg, pointed up, and we ascended until we were in clearer water. Then we got back on course.

After the dive, I told Reid how I had felt and he recounted how in a previous mission they encountered an area where the compass had gotten stuck on a heading and they had a circular swim pattern. A disturbance of the magnetic field COULD account for this. Maybe there was a large chunk of metal in the silt affecting the compass. Maybe it was an engine and fuselage. Maybe we need a side scanning sonar to make this much easier.

We found the other piece we were looking for, took a few more pictures, and paddled back to our boat. A little safety stop at 15 feet and then we resurfaced. But while we were at the stop, I blew some air rings and Reid got a great photo of a couple of them.

Back on the boat, I grabbed a radio and gave our intrepid land rovers a call. They were more than ready to come back. Joe was swimming back to get the boat and pick them up. They made a good sweep of this section of the island and not a single rivet showed itself. And DOB was right. They were soaked. It rained so hard they did not even take the cameras out of their waterproof Hefty Trash Bags. However, Pete did get an audio track as his camera turned on when it went into the bag.

We all got back on the boat and decided it was time for lunch. At first, Joe let the boat loose and we were drifting. Then he swung us around and tied up to a trimaran that has been moored in this lagoon for storage. We were breaking out our lunch supplies: one can of tuna, a jar of peanut butter, some raisin bread, Oreo cookies and some cool, not cold, Aloha Maid drinks.

Val, I’m ashamed to say that ‘da boys are not good at this whole supply/resupply thing.

That’s when my value in the culinary department came to the forefront. “You know, we can get sashimi at Sam’s.” Before anyone could answer, Joe had the boat going in the right direction. All of 2 minutes away.

Well, we did not have sashimi. It was too cold, what with the rain intensifying, and the wind, very fast when the boat is going very fast to the dock. ‘A round of cheeseburgers for my friends. Extra crispy on the fries. Coffee all around.’ The more we sat out of the rain and wind at Sam’s, the more Pat said we would not want to go back out. After all, what’s a little rain in the jungle? As a matter of fact, there are some benefits: less heat, less bugs and no burning if you were to see the sun.

Although The BentProp Project is not a democracy, a vote was taken, when Pat went to refill his coffee cup.

Back to the hotel, clean up and we got together to once again prioritize our last days. Today really was a loss and one that we would not have foreseen. No one can remember seeing an entire day and night wiped out by rain. We know it has to happen, but in 11 years of coming here, it’s never happened to Pat. It’s after 10 pm and the rain still hasn’t let up.

Pat will make some calls first thing tomorrow morning. What transpires during those calls will determine what we do. We have 3 sites to look at with potential MIAs. But we need some locals who told us about them to get us in the correct area. We are using the smart man theorem and do not want to look just for the sake of sweating. Hiking through the jungle without thought is just exercise. Paddling in the water without a plan is also just exercise.

Dinner out with Bill Belcher who kept us entertained with stories from around the world.

Back in the room, going to read a little bit and then snap out the light. I can’t wait for the ohdarkthirty rooster to let me know it’s a new day. I just hope that whoever locked their dog outside last night takes a little pity on the poor creature on a stormy night like tonight. I think the dog barked from midnight until 4 am without a break.

That’s the news for the 15th. Tomorrow will be a grand day. I can feel it. Until then.

It’s tomorrow!

We started the day with a couple of phone calls, a trip to the Internet Café for breakfast and then a change into our jungle gear. I was finally going to get a real jungle hike on this trip.

Like Pat, I really do like the jungle here in Palau. This isn’t the kind of jungle that you see in the movies: vines that attack you, vile creatures ready to pounce, quicksand that will swallow you before you can say glug, glug glug. Although the jungle can be impassably dense, it is tourist friendly. The heat goes down at least 12 degrees when you step out of the sun and into the shade. Because we’re on hilly islands, we almost always have a small breeze. There are not many bugs to bother you (mosquitoes are more of a problem in town than in the jungle). I have seen one snake in my time here over 3 years. Very poisonous as it was a coral snake. But they are timid and for the most part stick to the coastal areas. So the jungle is a fun experience in Palau.

This time we were tracking down a lead from Esther, Joe’s wife. Her Aunt as a teenager, used to hang laundry on a wing that was by a stream. That was a long time ago, but we needed to check it out. The directions we had were to drive to the little bridge, walk upstream until the creek made a 90 degree right turn and then there it was. The team checked out the entry point before I arrived in Palau and decided it would be better to drive into a quarry upstream, find the river and then walk downstream. What could be easier?

Three steps into the jungle on a small downward incline and I see someone in front of me slide onto their butt. If you remember from earlier in this post, it has rained quite a bit in the last 24 hours. The ground was slicker than pig snot, whether you had foliage to walk on or mud. Determined not to fall, I walked around the slick spot, promptly fell on my butt and once again arrested my downward slide with a flick of my wrist and a handy vine. Laughs all around.

Down at the bottom, we had to find the river. Joe hiked us around and we found a lot of rivers. The entire valley bottom was a maze of waterways. First it was up to the top of my boot. Then sinking deeper, up to my calf. A little further, mid-thigh. We found the river we needed to find, spread out on both sides and started walking to the ocean. We only needed to go to the little bridge, but I want you to imagine Bridge Over the River Kwai scenery.

One side of the river has the wing on it. One side has an engine. 10 feet into this part of the journey and I was up to my naval in river water. Coincidentally, the radio I was carrying stopped working on the selected channel. I sure hope we have a damage deposit on it. And I wonder if my new digital camera in my backpack is dry? I’ll find out later.

The good news about being soaked like this is that it is so much cooler, temperature wise. And, with very little effort, I looked the part of a jungle adventurer. Take my picture, please. We followed what we thought was the main river. Joe had marched out smartly and had covered much more ground than we did and met us as we were approaching the bridge. He said that it was too hard to tell if we were in the right place since there was so much water here. At least we know that where we looked, there were no big hunks of airplanes.

We came out onto the road and started hiking back to the van. A local Pepsi truck driver took pity on us and gave us a ride to the quarry. Back in our van, smelling like Smacked Ass, (for a strict definition, write to Val or Bill Belcher) headed back to town. Since ‘da boys still haven’t figured out the concept of re-supply, and since our cooler is quite low on provisions, and since we are now used to sitting on chairs for lunch, we headed to ‘The Truck Stop’.

While we were eating, Joe looked up into the sky and pointed. We all saw 2 large transport type airplanes flying a mile or so in trail formation, with 2 fighter type airplanes escorting each of the bigger ones. Has anyone kept an eye on the news lately? Is there anything you want/need to tell us? The entire formation was flying to the northeast, in the direction of Guam.

After chow, we made some stops that were very productive. We interviewed the man who told us about the Wildcat. We chatted with the Executive Director of the Palau Conservation Society who is going to show us where some wreckage is. We also met with a guy who knows where a wreck is, 100 yards into the water by the hospital. Looking at our records, this may be a Hellcat. And we haven’t found a Hellcat yet.

We stopped by the Crocodile Preserve and spoke with Joshua. He has been helpful in the past, but we were running out of time to get together with him for a search. Pete had taken a great photo of him and his daughter and Pat gave it to them. Joshua went on to tell us that he just got his own GPS unit to help in the tracking of crocodiles and getting blood samples. He showed us how in one week’s time, he had gotten seven samples. So how does one get a blood sample from a croc? With a syringe of course. And where do you take the sample from? The big vein near the heart. This isn’t like taking care of your pet dog or cat.

We’re back at the hotel, cleaning up for a meeting with Rita. She IS the Palau Historic Preservation Office. We want to fill her in on our discoveries, our comings and goings and to give her a piece of the Wildcat that we think will be stolen if we don’t rescue it: the tailhook. So off we go.

Now we’re back. Rita was at a conference. Won’t be back until Wednesday. But we did get to see the new Palau Museum under construction. And one of the artifacts out in the front yard is a B-24 propeller. Maybe even from the one we found this year, or one Pat has found previously.

Over to the Bureau of Land Management. They have charts. We have charts. They use GPS. We use GPS. Our points don’t match up with the real world. Theirs do because they know the correction to make to align everything. We will know that correction shortly.

We wanted to go to the Maritime Patrol to see if they had any British Admiralty Charts as we hear they are the newest for this area. But, it was after 4 pm and you know how government offices work.

Over to Sam’s for sunset. We met up with Dennis who is giving us some mapping software that is far superior to what we have, and more readily accepts the corrections we got from the BLM.

No sashimi on the island today. The winds were out of the northwest and the local fishing fleet doesn’t go out in this weather. But that did not stop the Chinese commercial fishing vessels from going after sashimi grade tuna for the Japanese market. Business is business after all.

Tomorrow, we are heading to Sam’s for breakfast. Seems one of Sam’s employees has some info for us. Then we are meeting with the head chief of all the islands. Then maybe out to the barge where JPAC is working so we can see what the official government searchers do for a living. Then, back to the Wildcat for a little digging in the mud to see if we can get an identification number.

So that’s what I’ve done for the last two days on my winter vacation. Time really is going fast. Soon I’ll be home and I am really looking forward to that. This is way too long away from Rebecca.

Until next time.

Blue Skies, Flip