Update #10

Hello Everyone!

This is my last full day in Palau. I fly out tomorrow morning, 21 Feb, at 0230. Oy! That’s early. But I get back to DTW at 1215 pm on 21 Feb. Isn’t the International Dateline marvelous?

Lessons Learned:

1. Although the odds of finding something are better if you bring your tipster with you, there are still odds involved.

2. A needle in a haystack is easier to find than a wreck on an ocean reef.

3. You can get sunburned even after being in the sun for 30+ days.

4. The BentProp story is universal in nature.

5. Everybody knows somebody, everywhere.

6. It all works out.

7. Time to spare, go by air.

We had a relatively early go this morning. We were supposed to push away from the dock at 0800 with some Seabees and Roddy. Roddy was going to lead us to a wreck near The German Lighthouse. The Seabees were going to hike with us instead of P.T. training. As we pulled away from the hotel, we got stuck in traffic. And this isn’t even the main road. Next August, Palau will host an International Pacific Art Festival. The Emergency Response people from the government were testing their ability to divert traffic off the main road and still get people from one end of the island chain to the other. There is only one road that does this, but each island has a bunch of side roads.

We get to the dock a little late. Roddy isn’t there. That’s bad. If someone doesn’t take you to where they think something is, your odds go down in finding anything. But Roddy calls to say he’s running 5 minutes late. That’s good. 30 minutes go by. That’s bad. We’re eternal optimists. That’s good. It’s been 45 minutes. That’s bad. We decide to shove off and there’s Roddy walking down the dock. That’s good.

The Seabees called to say that they would not be joining us for our nature hike. They just had an inspection by some folks from the mothership and their plate was full for a Friday.

We board up and head out. 15 minutes later, we’re at an old coral jetty. The Japanese, and to a small degree the Germans before them, built a lot of infrastructure in the Palaus. Especially when the Japanese military took over. We hiked for 45 minutes up an old road, hewn out of the coral island. Some places were built up tens of feet high to even the grade and large amounts of coral were displaced from ridges and rises to make cuts through them. Dan asked what I thought the grade was. All I could answer was “Steep”.

And all along the way you could see gun emplacements, caves, building foundations and large naval guns. Most of the way up the road was one and a half modern car widths. Very impressive. With a little work, the whole road could be cleared of vines, roots and trees and be made serviceable.

The Old German Lighthouse is still used today. But not as a lighthouse. There are a couple of solar panels, some batteries and antennas. It is a radio tower for cell phone and VHF communications. And there is a good view if you get to the top. Although the jungle has grown up around it, there are still some angles that provide breathtaking view.

Who actually built it has not been answered for me. By the name, one could make an educated guess. However, no one knows for sure.

Roddy points us into the jungle and we fan out. Zip. We change directions. Nada. We regroup, ask Roddy probing questions and look again. No joy. Both Roddy and his brother sounded certain this was the area. They even drew a map and agreed on the location. And the airplane they drew, that they said was there, looked like an airplane that could be there.

But it’s not. Either they have forgotten where it is in relation to the lighthouse, or it’s the wrong tip of land. We all have the feeling they are honest brokers. We have dealt with a few characters here that wanted to please us more than be accurate. There was no Chucky of Child’s Play smile coming from Roddy. He said he would look for it on his own and report back to Joe if he finds it again.

We head down the trail, and at what we call the headquarters area, we stop for lunch. Joe is going on his own on a wide sweep of the area, down to the water. We’re taking pretty pictures. My photos of this area did not come out. I am not used to this camera yet and the auto mode could not handle the darkness under the jungle canopy. I will use shutter priority next year.

Val, you’ll be proud of Dan and me. We were told to bring a nutritious lunch and we went shopping and achieved the goal. All the food groups were present, and I’m not talking Palauan food groups of sashimi, fries and beer. We had beef jerky (two kinds), Pringles (two kinds), Craisins (two kinds), wasabi peas and water. Pat had only said for us to get some sort of power bar as the nutrition for the day and of course we left it behind on the kitchen table.

We watched a B.B.W.B. (big beautiful white bird) flying through the tree tops, down in and around the branches and under the leafy canopy.

It started to rain. The jungle road was going to be slick. It was going to cool off. It would be dark. And Joe wasn’t back.

But then we heard him calling from the jungle and we started down. He joined us a few yards down the trail. And he had a prize with him.

Joe came back with a coconut crab that was going to become a snack for him later. If you can get fresh coconut crab, it’s worth the trip to Palau. But make sure it’s fresh, not the frozen ones.

Down the trail we went. Drenched by the time we reached the bottom. But no stumbles or falls. It looks like I’ll get out of Palau this year without a trip to the Pat Scannon Medical and Surgical Trauma Unit.

We take the boat and cruise along the island, looking for a marine lake we saw from the air. We find it and can actually drive the boat to it. Nothing in there. But it is quite pretty.

Joe heads back to town. We drop Roddy off and find a monkey in a cage by this dock. Such a friendly creature. And one who cares about the hygiene of humans around him.

Back on the boat. We head west. In the National Archives, we saw a couple of photos from the end of the war with airplanes out on the western reef. At least the shapes looked like airplanes. Plus we had a report of a square tip winged airplane out on that reef, west of Malakal Harbor, from the time Richard Houle was shot down. It was a long shot, but we had paid for the boat all day and didn’t want to turn it in early.

We went to a small landmark that was in the old photo, and is still there. A quick look around and we realized it’s a pretty big reef out here. We motored north to where the square tip was reported. And it was there!

Well, something square was there and it looks like it’s been there for a long time. Looks nautical, definitely metal, maybe a landing ramp from a barge or assault vessel. This definitely could be what was reported in 1944. It’s just not an airplane.

We call it a day.

Back at the ranch, get cleaned up and head to the internet café. We asked Joe to join us for dinner. I was given the choice and I choose to go out for sashimi for my last night’s supper. Over to Sam’s. Out of fish. Over to Kraemer’s and fish galore.

6 plates of sashimi later, plus 3 sets of wings, 4 sets of fries, 3 crab bisque soups, 2 salads and appropriate libations, we chased down Bill Belcher for a report on Peleliu. They like the Avenger we found last year and will put this site on their list to excavate some day.

Back at the hotel, Joe sends us off with presents from him and Ester. I pack out. The team goes to bed and the hotel takes me to the airport. Coincidentally, the driver is the son of the owner of the hotel. His Uncle is the one who told us about the Wildcat on his property. His other Uncle is building a big house in the same area and is fascinated by World War Two history. He takes a BentProp card and says he’ll keep is eyes and ears open.

It’s a little early and I have time to chat with some other folks in the queue. A Brit heading home after some business in Palau. A Chuukese (Truk Islander) is on a round the pond scuba vacation. Lots of locals taking fish out of Palau.

I check in and low and behold, a seat assignment right off the bat. This trip home is going to be easy. Continental always takes such good care of me.

0230 takeoff from ROR.

0515 arrival in GUM

0715 on time pushback from the gate to go to NRT. One problem.

I’m not on it. Lots of people have been turned away from the flight. In the past few days, loads have really gotten full. Many standby passengers are still standing by. I talked with one gentleman who has been trying to get out of GUM for 3 days. I’m doomed. The flights are all full on Continental for days to come. Well thank goodness NWA flies to NRT from here. One problem.

Our flight doesn’t leave until 1615 local time and won’t connect with any flight back to the U.S for an arrival on the 21st. No problem. I’ll just be a day later. My plan is to go over to the hotel I stayed at before, get a little sleep, hit the beach and use their computer to make reservations on Northwest. Not necessarily in that order. My bags did not get pulled from the NRT flight. In theory, they should be waiting for me in Tokyo when I get there. That’s probably a good thing. All I have in my little travel bag is one set of traveling clothes, swimsuit and t-shirt and my shaving kit. At least when I hit Japan, I can have some choices. I really don’t need anything in GUM other than my swimsuit so I can continue tanning at the pool, use the waterslide and hit the beach.

No beach or any other outside activities today. Monsoon-like rains. Hotel bed comfy. Not much sleep. Phone call to Rebecca on my own AT&T calling card at 3.2 cents a minute instead of $1.00 a minute in Palau. All is well at home and she won’t be waiting for me on what is now the wrong day. Computer works fine. One problem.

Our flight is full to Tokyo. Has been for days and will be for days. Okay, there is a reason I am a pilot for NWA. I can ride the jumpseat. It’s only three hours and some change to get to NRT. Even I can sit through that. I just hope I don’t have to spend 12 hours or so in the jumpseat from Japan to DTW. But, that’s a day away from now so why worry about it.

The one thing I was going to miss out on, if everything went according to schedule, was seeing the completed Wyland mural. Now I could take some time and really gaze at it. It’s beautiful: flying manta rays, swimming dolphins, fish of all descriptions and corals of vibrant colors. I heard my name called out. The same manager from the TSA that I had to deal with during my parachute equipment ordeal was calling to me. Is this a good thing to be known by name by a suit from the TSA? He asked if this mural or the one in Palau was better. Without hesitating, after all, I am sleep deprived, I answer Guam’s is better. He lets me go without intrusively searching my bags.

Great crew on the GUM flight and they want to know all about our searching for The Heroes. I have found very few people around the world who do not spark up when they hear about The BentProp Project. And it does not matter what country they are from or what age group they belong to.

And they fed me. Normally on a full flight there is no spare food for strap hangers (term for commuters on trains) such as me.

Got to NRT and our layover hotel had spare rooms. Checked in, and arranged transportation back to the airport the next day. I also checked to see who was flying me home the next day. Since there was a good chance that I was going to be in the jumpseat, I thought I would try to introduce myself tonight. And I know one of the two Captains on the flight.

For those who don’t know, there are multiple crews on the 747 when the flights are really long. The senior Captain is the one who’s overall in charge. But whichever Captain is in the left seat, they’re totally in charge at that time.

Freshened up and went down to the pub. Again, everyone that I knew asked what I was doing there as DC9s do not divert to Japan from Minot, North Dakota. Got some more buffalo gyoza. Found out that they still know how to pour a Guinness. And I found one of the Captains for tomorrow’s flight.

Jack Wortman is our head of ALPA Safety in DTW. It turns out he has a fascination for World War Two aviation as his Dad flew Wildcats with Joe Foss in the Marine Corps. Again, it’s a small world. We talked about The BentProp and he said that even if seats were available, he’d make me sit in the cockpit so he could learn about what we were doing out in Palau.

I also decided to try and start working my body clock back onto Eastern Standard Time. I needed to stay up really late for this to work.

So of course I fell asleep promptly at 2200. And I sleep soundly until 0700 on the 22nd. After 40 days away from the United States, my body clock really is synched with the far side of the planet. I think my body will be really confused for about a week once I’m in Chelsea.

Great breakfast. Check the computer for email from my honey and to see if I will be watching a movie enroute to DTW. Rebecca said hi and the load showed two seats available. It’s going to be a great day.

Went outside and it was warm! Time for a long walk. I’m in my swimsuit, T-shirt and sandals, walking around in what is still winter in Japan. But it’s a spring day to me. It was Sunday so most stores were closed. But I did see people out washing their cars (Japan has the cleanest cars of any country I’ve been to.); many car lots, gardens, some small shrines and I now know where the barber shops are close to the hotel. And I made an artistic discovery too. Even the manhole covers have art designs on them. In this prefecture, the design is a horse and what appears to be a field of wild flowers. Since I’ve never investigated manhole covers before, I can’t say what the next prefecture’s covers look like. For all I know it’s the manufacturers choice, not the city’s.

I’ve even scoped out how to get to downtown Narita so I can really be a tourist next year. I’m told one of the best temples to visit in all of Japan is in Narita.

Back to the hotel, change into my traveling duds and go to the airport a little early for some last minute shopping.

I present myself to the ticket counter agents, and as they suck in all the air in the room, they inform me the flight to DTW is oversold. They are already asking for volunteers to travel via the other gateway cities. However, I do have the jumpseat. I’ll make it home. They ask me about my bags. I told them they should be here waiting for this flight. They grab the claim checks and type into the computer. For a long time. They asked why I didn’t check on them last night. They typed some more.

My brain started working over the possibilities: they’re over at Continental waiting for me to pick them up (definitely not enough time and make it out of Japan today); they’re really back in Guam (which means they’re lost because I called the Continental Bag Service before I left GUM and they said they were not there. I also talked with our Northwest Station Manager and he said that CO would shift them to NWA and they would wait until I boarded to load them.); they never made it out of Palau (and I’ve asked Dan, who is still in Palau, to see if they made it out.). None of these possibilities is good news.

She smiled (more of a Cheshire Cat grin) at me and said they were in DTW. That possibility didn’t occur to me, but is great news. That is if they are really there. Only time will tell.

I wiz through immigration and security and find a restaurant so I can have a big lunch. If I’m in the jumpseat, I know I won’t be getting any food since the airplane is full. I mean what are the odds of being fed twice.

Checked email again with the free wireless laptops that are scattered around the concourse. I try to link my laptop with a cable to their laptop so I can clear out my email that is on the server, but all the ports are covered and locked. Smart I.T. guys here at the airport.

At the gate counter I present the gate agent with my jumpseat form. They look at me, suck in all the air in the room and say that the jumpseat is taken by a working crewmember. I’m doomed. Most of the other flights are full. There are some seats to SFO, but I won’t get back to DTW until 8 pm. That really will be a long day. And I’m not sure there are seats open from SFO to DTW so it could be another day to get home. Remember, I’m in my last clean set of undies and socks

During the boarding process, they realize the jumpseat will be open for me. Rather than hang out by the gate I run onto the airplane to hide in the cockpit. I’m on! That’s good. I forgot to buy something to go from one of the restaurants so I can be sure of eating enroute. That’s bad. Well, I did have a Guinness last night so not eating will burn the calories out quicker.

The Flight Attendant calls and asks if the crew wants to eat now. They say yes. I chirp up from the back and volunteer to take any extra food they may have on board. Maybe a bag of nuts or even half eaten sandwich. I wasn’t hungry until I heard the crew talk about food. Now I’m famished.

The door opens and in walks trays of food. And one has my name on it. Seems that unlike the DC9 going to Minot, ND, there’s lots of food on 747s going over the pond. I chow down.

When we’re all done, I bus the trays out to the Flight Attendants and find out that the deadheading crew member that was going to be in the jumpseat, is sitting in a middle seat in the main cabin. If it wasn’t for him doing that, I’d be in Tokyo for another day. I owe him.

I may not be able to sleep in the cockpit (lights on, crew talking, rules and regs) but I am well fed. Riding the jumpseat is a very viable way to go. I hope I feel that way at the end of the trip. But maybe if I stay up the entire time, it will help me reset my body clock.

We’re at 33,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific. Near the Aleutians I think. Only 7 hours to go. And the longest flight I’ve ever flown at Northwest was 7:05.

In the last email I got from Palau, the team had a great dinner with the Seabees and JPAC in attendance. A great time had by all. They went back to the B-24 with Bill Belcher but I don’t have the results from that. They did tell me that the seaplane ramp tipster would not take them there without some up front remuneration. That doesn’t work with this crowd. So we put that tip on our 'to do' list for next year.

That’s about all I know on the 22nd of February. The rest of the team starts departing Palau at 0230 on the 23rd with the last leaving on the 25th. They all have real seats so they shouldn’t have any stories to tell about their travels. But, you never know.

There will be an 11th update for you in case anything develops in the next few days. And I’ll let you know what will happen prior to next year’s mission. Once again, I hope you got your moneys worth from these field reports. Take care and I’ll yack at ya in a few days when I can focus on the keyboard at home.

Blue Skies, Flip