Update #9

Hello All!

It was a muddy day in paradise. Partially due to the rainstorm yesterday, but mostly due to a little more digging at the Wildcat site in Airai.

Lessons Learned

1. It’s better on the equipment when you borrow the operators too.

2. What differentiates us from the lower animals is the ability to make tools.

3. If you don’t have lunch, you can eat 1.6 dinners.

4. Having a GPS fix of your destination isn’t the final answer if you can’t receive a sat signal and you don’t get a fix on your entry point.

5. It took three years of missions to figure out to swim in a river at the end of a muddy day.

6. When in doubt, eat.

7. Sunsets at Sam’s are the best.

We head to Sam’s for breakfast. Probably the best one I’ve had on the island. We were told that the woman who works the breakfast shift knows about an airplane. It turns out that after talking with her, we already know about this one.

We have a ten o’clock appointment with the Ibedul. He’s one of the Paramount Chiefs of the Chiefs of Palau. This was strictly a social call to keep the tribal side of the government informed of what we are doing here. Turns out he was in the U.S. Army, stationed at The Presidio in SFO, when Pat was stationed at the hospital on The Presidio. Small world.

A couple of errands including talking with someone who might have a lead for us. We visited the JPAC barge working the Q.B. Nelson site. They’ve found some 50 caliber ammo, some 25mm Japanese ammo, parts and pieces of the Corsair. We get the 50-cent tour by Bill Belcher and it is fascinating to see how they go about searching for the lost heroes. There is a lot of work being done out here. It’s a good feeling to know that. However, this is their last day on the site before they restore the bottom. Then on to another location for them.

For us, up to the Seabees' camp to borrow some more equipment. We take 3 long handled shovels, one short one and a rake.

Since it rained a lot up here yesterday, the dirt road to our normal let-in point looked much more treacherous than before. We found an old track that led to our site from a different direction. We take it until it meets up with the jungle. We gear up, including hanging used one-gallon water jugs from my waist belt. We march in and within 15 minutes, we’ve lost our bearings. We think it’s in that direction, but no one is very sure. The GPS isn’t much help as we can’t get a signal in the jungle. The site isn’t that far away. We should be able to figure this out. Joe tries climbing a tree. DOB goes to the edge of a rise and spots some houses through the foliage. We now can walk in the right direction and a little draw pops us out right above our engine.

We notice that the hole we dug initially was filled with water. Well, we knew that was the case ahead of time. That’s why we brought the water jugs. I cut the bottom of off of one and started bailing. This was going to take a while. At the same time, DOB and Pete start digging a trench to drain the water off that way. At the same time, Reid and Pat start peeling off layers of mud and roots from the front side of the engine. Since there is a chance of this being an MIA site, we are staying away from the cockpit side of the engine. We do not have a name of the pilot who flew this and don’t know what happened to him. It’s a mystery. We all hope he parachuted to safety and was rescued by our own forces. At the same time Joe takes the metal detector and starts scanning the marsh area. We found a lot of stuff out there. Maybe there is more.

After a bit, the engine area gets too congested. Joe has returned and said there is more metal near a spar that is sticking up out of the marsh. Dan and I grab some shovels and the metal detector and head out. Our first stop is the wing that is sticking up out of the ground. We uncover more of the leading edge of the wing and see that both machine guns are missing. We head over to a spot on the pond that is part of this marsh area. Someone saw something sticking up out of the water. It turns out to be wood, so we’re not interested. But we also find a river flowing out of the marsh. It even has a small waterfall associated with it. So what we thought was just a low spot with trapped water, is actually a renewable resource that flows.

We head back to that spar and start probing the marsh. Whatever Joe found, it’s pretty substantial. We try prying it up. It’s being held down by years of roots and vines. We take the machete and start slicing. The roots and vines. But you knew that. We take the shovels and start digging. We take the rake handle and start lifting. That’s when we snapped the rake handle in two.

The proper tool for the proper job. Isn’t that what we’re all taught? Dan and I were too. And we remembered the lesson right as we heard the crack.

We called Reid and Joe down to put a little muscle against the piece sticking straight up. Maybe we could lever it out. Needed to be cleared more. We found nothing else of the cockpit there. The big piece seemed to be part of the fuselage, with wing fold attachment points, some of the wing root and other assorted pieces. We’ll keep researching this one until we do have hard evidence, one way or the other.

Pat and Reid did find a plate from the motor. Not the engine serial number plate, but the one with all the patent numbers on it. For a Curtiss engine. So this does confirm that it was an FM-2, not an F4F as that airplane had a Pratt and Whitney motor on it.

We are covered from head to toe in mud. We decide to call it a day. We gather up our stuff and head to the river exiting the marsh to clean off the equipment we borrowed. We want to be good neighbors and return the implements to the Seabees in good condition. As we were cleaning up the implements, we all went for a swim to clean ourselves off. Why hadn’t we thought of this years ago? Wherever we have gotten very muddy, there has always been a moving river. Although we will be soaked in the van, which is taking on the smell of a well manicured horse barn, it won’t be as muddy.

But how to get back to the van? Go the way we came through the jungle? That’s the shortest way. Back up the road that we avoided? That keeps us in the clear, but is a longer walk. Or out the opposite side of the marsh which is the shortest way to the Seabee camp and try to bum a ride?

We decide to get some more exercise, since we’re all bushed from working in the sun all afternoon, and take the long walk back to the car. It’s a pleasant walk on top of this ridge. Nice breeze. An occasional drop of rain to cool us off. And in no time, we’re at the van.

How to explain the short piece of rake handle to the officer in charge of the Seabees? Simple, we broke it. But, it’s the perfect length for keeping the side door of the van open while driving. But, we should return all pieces to them. After all, it is all the taxpayers’ rake handle, not just theirs.

Back to town and a quick cleanup. Out to Kraemers for dinner. This is the restaurant, which overlooks Malakal Harbor, where two years ago the Marines joined us for dinner and sang the Marine Corps Hymn to QB. We could see the JPAC barge lit up as we ate. We had fresh sashimi, Hammerhead Wings, many different main courses and a round of spaghetti for my friends. Way too much food for 5 people. We ate it all.

Over to the Internet Café for one more scan of email. Bill Belcher comes over and tells us the status of the barge site. Tomorrow will be a restoration day of the bottom.

To bed early. Finish off a trashy novel.

Today is the 18th here. The ohdarkthirty union rooster was late today. He gave me an extra 15 minutes of sleep. But it’s now 1215 and he’s still working hard.

Went to the Internet Café first. I popped across the street to the Continental Ticket Office. They took a look at the loads and it looks like I need to leave on the 21st if I want to get home for work on the 25th. I strike up a conversation with Doris and she wants to know why we keep looking for airplanes where we do. She said a man who is the last of the free divers in Palau keeps saying we are looking in all the wrong places. This man is a relative of her husbands. She’s going to talk with him tonight and see if he’ll talk to us. I’m supposed to return tomorrow to find out the answer. This always happens on these trips. We get good intel during the last few days here and we run out of time to investigate.

Rita at the Historical Preservation Office is still not available. Maybe at one o’clock.

Dan, Pete and Reid head to the TV station to see about getting a copy of the President’s speech about our work. And to get some boxes for the pack out. Pat went to his room to do some work. I was going to walk around, but here I am at the computer, writing to you. I wonder what our afternoon holds for us? You’ll find out soon enough.

We visit with Rita at the Historical Preservation Office. She’s happy to hear of all our progress and she’s happy to be able to tell her President how we are helping to tell some of the history of Palau. Pat has an excellent working relationship with The Palauan Government. They all know he is not here on vacation, trying to rob them of artifacts of their history. They also have an enormous respect for The United States of America and what we did in World War Two.

We went out to the Seabee compound to pick up Roddy. He is a Palauan in an apprentice program with the Seabees. He and his brother have recently visited a plane with bones in it out by The German Lighthouse. We’ve tried to get a meeting with them, with Joe in attendance. We go to his Uncle’s house, and his brother is not there. A meeting is set up for the next day. It’s not normally a good thing when you get no showed for a meeting. But, Roddy insists he’s for real and all the Seabees vouch for his integrity and sincerity.

That seems to be all we can accomplish for the day. We have a meeting scheduled for the evening with Bill Belcher to share with him what we’ve found in our searches. Keeping the official searchers informed of what the volunteers are doing is a good thing.

We play on our computers, trying to get some mapping programs to work. We’re successful. Cool maps. But, it’s late. Time for bed. Tomorrow is slated to check on some more local tipsters. If we can come up with something to go into the field with, we’ll go. But until we have something to justify going into the jungle or under the water, we’re staying in town.

It’s now the 19th.

Today we had a number of appointments with some locals. Our best chance of finding someone/something is from local tips from someone who has stumbled across a plane.

Someone who knew someone was going to ask someone else if they were willing to help. They could not provide any valuable information.

A man who works in a steel yard, who knows where an airplane is will make himself available first thing Saturday morning and show us where a wreck is. This is potentially a Hellcat as one was observed going down in this area. However, I’m going to miss this one as I am leaving at 0230 Saturday morning. I’ll learn of the outcome as you will, by email.

Roddy and his brother came through with good data, and Roddy is going to take us to the wreck first thing Friday morning. That’s tomorrow. I can do that. It should be about 45 minutes of hiking on a coral island. Should be good fun and a good way to end the mission for me: with a find. We’ll go by boat to where The German Lighthouse road is, go up to the lighthouse, then search from there. That Roddy is leading us is really good news. That means he’s confident in finding it. And it’s good we don’t have an underwater tip for tomorrow. As much as I would like to help find a Hellcat, I can’t scuba dive for at least 18 hours prior to flying. If I fly out at 0230, that means I have to be out of the water at 0830 the day prior. I could snorkel and free dive on it. I did that last year on Q.B. Nelson’s site. But it is much more satisfying to be under the water with it for a stretch of time. Plus, I won’t have to carry back wet gear in my luggage.

After dropping Roddy back at the Seabee camp, Pat was supposed to pick the rest of us up in town, and we were going back to the Wildcat and restore the area. It doesn’t look very disturbed, but once again, we want to be good neighbors. We were supposed to meet at 1130 at the hotel. At 1230, no Pat. A few phone calls and we figured he went with Joe to do it on his own. So what’s a team to do? Eat! Went to a great Thai restaurant and chowed down. We left a note on Pat’s door and he and Joe joined us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing errands: provisions for tomorrows nature hike, clearing out accounts at the dive store and hotel, gathering up my gear, finding some things to shop for, checking email, getting an afternoon shake and the like. So that you don’t think we’re slacking, it’s raining like a tropical storm out there. Wait a minute. It is a tropical storm. Smart man theorem applies.

That’s my news from out in Palau. I hope I can dash off one more email tomorrow before I leave. Maybe I’ll have some more great news. But if I have no more news, then this has still been an incredible mission: 4 American planes and 2 Japanese airplanes found. One is a B-24. And the possibility that this could lead to the recovery of MIAs. Too cool. And that we got to see the official searchers, JPAC, do their thing, more coolness. And that I got to miss a lot of winter in Michigan, priceless.

Talk with you soon.

Blue Skies, Flip

PS Just stuck our heads out the door. Sunset is going to be beautiful. We’re heading to Sam’s to view it. Ah, so nice to be in Paradise with a car and no adult supervision.