P-MAN VI Update #7
20 January 2004

It looked like Tuesday was going to be a pretty laid-back day. It started with a leisurely trip to the Internet Cafe, after which we picked Joe up at his house (which is just down the street from our motel). We proceeded up to Airai state (where the international airport is, on Babelthuap), to interview Ricky, a well-spoken, elderly gentleman whom Pat had interviewed briefly two years ago.

Ricky was a 17-year-old student during the war in 1944, and later worked for the Japanese for awhile. In the earlier interview, he had recalled seeing a single-engine plane go down west of the Koror-Babelthuap bridge, and we wanted to get more information about that incident. We drove out to Ricky's house and gathered around in his living room. Ricky described the airplane being hit and losing part of its tail, then spinning down and impacting on the reef - in an area that he thinks he can find, so tomorrow we will try to take him out in the boat with us, to pinpoint the location. He indicated that the pilot parachuted to the reef, and that some Japanese soldiers walked out onto the reef to recover him. He indicated that the pilot was taken to a prison camp in Airai, but was later moved - and he has no idea where the pilot was taken after that.

We were about to wrap up the conversation when Ricky volunteered a question: "Do you know about the airplane beside the causeway?" We perked up big time, and said we do know about that aircraft, and have seen many pictures of it sitting in the shallow water beside the Arakabesan-Koror causeway. He said that he saw it hit by antiaircraft fire near Koror, and circle around and land in the water, coming to rest beside the causeway. He described the event in exactly the same way some reports have described Richard Houle's crash! The timing is right, the flight path is right, and the location is certainly plausible, given that it's only a few hundred yards from Malakal Harbor, where some reports suggested Houle's Avenger crashed.

We were stunned with this new eye-witness account, which certainly pulls our attention back to the A-K causeway as the final location of Houle's plane. And the information about the other single-engine plane that Ricky saw crash, which he called a "Grumman" (we suspect that it may have been an F6F), is what we plan to follow to its conclusion tomorow, when Ricky comes with us on the boat to try to locate the exact spot where he saw it go down.

We left Ricky's house and headed to the SeaBees' compound, north of the airport. There, Chief Grant introduced us to three of his students - young Palauan men, each of whom had an interesting story. One was hunting with his brother a couple of months ago near the old Malakal lighthouse, where they discovered what he describes as a single-engine plane, at least partially intact, "with bones still in the cockpit." The location is accessible, but a difficult climb up from the water. The Chief has given him permission to accompany us to the lighthouse and point out the exact location; we may go there tomorrow, after we've located the wreck that Ricky is taking us to find.

One of the other young men working for the SeaBees is the grandson of a woman who still lives on Angaur, and who was one of the few Palauans who remained on that island during the war.

The third young man reported that until last year, there was part of a wing sticking out of an area that had been "backfilled," right in his sister's back yard on Arakabesan. He said that he thinks the rest of the plane may still be buried in the spot where the wing was sticking out. The Chief, who is clearly a kindred spirit with the BentProp team and its mission, volunteered to take the young man in his truck and lead us to the spot. We drove over and met his sister and assorted kids and dogs. The spot where the wing was is only a few feet into the jungle beside her driveway. He thinks the wing may have been hauled away last year when a road crew was doing some paving of the road - they had parked a roller beside her driveway. We scrabbled around in the leaves and vines for a bit, and uncovered a bunch of trash that had been tossed in that spot.

The Chief, really getting into the mystery, got on his cell phone and arranged for a couple more men and a bunch of shovels to come over in a truck and help with the investigation. This contingent arrived awhile later, and began to dig in earnest, in a location that was clearly eroded by water running down into the fill. There appears to be a fair amount of water that runs down into this spot during rain storms and disappears - which is consistent with the possibility of a void in the fill, such as the void that would be created if you filled in over an aircraft that was partially intact.

We only dug down a couple of feet. It was clear that the whole area is fill that hasn't been compacted and the digging was fairly easy, but we didn't want to violate any of the local rules dealing with historic preservation - so we'll notify the authorities of the site but won't try to do more for the time being. Before we left, the Chief pointed out a location only a couple hundred meters away where there is the wreckage of a seaplane, less than 100 feet off shore near Palau Pacific Resort.

Robby, the man who will accompany us to the lighthouse, also mentioned some aircraft parts down by the water below a hotel that's only a half-mile or so from where we were digging, so on the way back to Koror we stopped there and walked down the hill to the water. There we saw scattered aircraft debris, but it was widely scattered small aluminum pieces that appear to be from a Japanese aircraft. This whole island was a seaplane base during the war, so it's possible that both this and the one near the digging site were Japanese seaplanes.

We finally went back to Koror and had lunch.

After lunch we drove out to the "Crocodile Farm" to try to catch Joshua, whose brother Albert had told us in 2000 that Joshua knew the location of some wreckage on an island that we had visited with Albert. Joshua wasn't home, but was due back in about an hour - so we headed back to the west end of Koror, where a construction company has been clearing what turns out to be a small area of mangrove, in which we suspect there may be some pieces of a B-24 that we saw splash down in one of the sets of bonbing-mission aerial photos that we tracked down at NARA. We couldn't see anything from this inner edge of the mangroves, but decided that if we ultimately explore this section of mangrove, the spot behind the construction company would be a pretty good spot to enter.

We fought the rush-hour traffic back out to the Croc Farm, which is just at the south end of the K-B bridge, and met Joshua, who had returned home from work. Joshua agreed to accompany us in a couple of weeks, probably after the rest of our team arrives from Thailand, to the island where the elusive wreckage is located. As with Ricky this morning, we kept the conversation going and asked if there were any other aircraft that Joshua knows about. He indicated that his brother Johnathan knows the location of a wreck a short distance away, that for all the world sounds like it could be that of Cowboy Stout's Corsair. We have a plan to get together with Johnathan in a week or so to check that one out.

Then Joshua told us of a story that he had heard from his father, who had been in the business of hauling vegetables in his boat from Babelthuap to Koror, and who said he had seen the aircraft shot down that wound up beside the A-K causeway! The story perfectly matches the one we heard from Ricky this morning, and continues to fit the profile of the Houle mission. He also said that his father had told him of another single-engine plane shot down on the reef just west of the K-B bridge - and that story, too, matched the one that Ricky told this morning, except that Joshua thought his father had said that the pilot, who parachuted from the falling plane, was picked up by an American seaplane. Walter Brown, whose Corsair went down just east of the K-B bridge, actually was picked up by a dumbo fairly near to Joshua's place, so it's possible that Joshua (or his father) got this detail confused between the two events. We presently consider Ricky's story to be more reliable, because he was the actual eyewitness, and he's still very articulate and sharp as a tack (and most gracious) at 77.

Other than that, we didn't accomplish much today.

Onward and upward! Strength through joy!

- Reid