P-MAN VI Update #17
Yesterday (Sunday), we flew again with Matt in the Belau Air Islander. Joe came along. We did video and still passes around Airai (the area south of the airport on Babelthuap), Ngatpang Bay, the Japanese police station in Ngatpang where JPAC was searching last week, the new B-24 site, northeast, south central, and western Koror, Ngargol, Malakal Harbor where JPAC has begun to examine the Nelson Corsair site, and the old Malakal lighthouse on the ridge south of Malakal.
Back on the ground, we visited a Palauan elder woman who remembers seeing some aircraft wreckage near the bank of a stream where she and her family washed clothes when she was a young teenager. She used to spread clothes out on the wing to dry. She said the aircraft's engine was on the other side of the stream at that spot, which is fairly close to the airport on the south side.
We drove to the small bridge that spans the little brackish creek and got a GPS fix, but decided to save this site for later reconnaissance: the jungle is pretty dense along the edges of the stream, and we hadn't come equipped for wading and possible crocodile encounters.
After a late lunch, we went back to Belau Air to meet Matt and his wife Madrei. Madrei had indicated that she knew where there was some aircraft wreckage, just down from her old back yard, before you go into the mangroves. We drove to that house where we met her brother Ben, who also knew of the location of the wreckage. Ben led the group down through the jungle to the edge of the mangroves, where we arrived at a bomb crater about 30 feet across, full of muddy water. Ben said the crater is new - a year or two ago, the SeaBees had come in and blown up an unexploded bomb that had been found near a fairly large piece of the aircraft. Yep: they blew up the aircraft, too. There are numerous small pieces of aluminum aircraft parts in the area. In one swampy spot, there's a oddly shaped piece that we photographed from several angles in hopes of identifying it. The presence of what appears to be a sea mine and a spent US .50-caliber machine-gun shell points strongly to the possibility that this is an American aircraft, but the small size of the remaining pieces will make identification pretty tough.
We also photographed the object that appears to be a sea mine, and plan to show the pictures to our EOD expert guy. Ben indicated that there are numerous examples of these objects in the area, and that the Palauan fishermen used to remove material from them to make small bombs to use for stunning fish. Evidently these savvy Palauan fishermen are also EOD specialists.
Today (Monday) was going to start at the SeaBees' compound for a Super Bowl party, but on the way we made a quick detour to the boat ramp behind the hospital on the north side of Arakabesan, where Joe had spotted something a couple of days ago when we made a dive there. Right beside the ramp is something that looks like a two-wheel main landing gear assembly. On closer inspection, though, it appears that there's a differential between the wheels, and that the whole thing was probably part of a tug used to haul seaplanes up the ramp out of the water. Pretty clearly not aircraft. But under an old ladder nearby is what appears to be part of an aircraft wing. We want to go back and inspect the wing fragment at some point, but since this was a Japanese seaplane base, we're inclined to think that it's probably Japanese.
We headed from the boat ramp back up to the SeaBees' compound on Babelthuap, where we slipped into the mess hall near the end of the first quarter of the Big Game, before anyone had scored. At halftime, Pat presented BentProp coins to Chief Grant and Lieutenant Lepper, OIC of the SeaBees unit, plus an extra coin for the unit. And the Chief gave Pat a very handsome US Navy Mobile Construction Battalion / CPO Association coin in return. Then it was back to the game
I'm sure that there wasn't any real wagering involving the game, but let's just say that in addition to some seriously good snacks provided by the SeaBees, there was clear local indication of both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Then we were pretty much finished for the day, and ready to head back to Lehns Motel for a data-analysis afternoon.
No, wait...we needed to go back to Neco Marine to talk to Henni Rall about the possibility of arranging a meeting with Tommy Remgesau, Jr., the President of Palau, for the purpose of explaining the new B-24 find and its importance, and making a case for serious protection of the site as a grave site. And inviting the President to come out and dive on the site with us. Both Henni and Shallum (the Governor of Ngatpang) were there, and agreed that a meeting with the President would be a good idea. Shallum set up the meeting for 10:00 tomorrow, and we decided that we needed to head back to Lehns to assemble some video and stills to present to the President in tomorrow's meeting.
No, wait...the JPAC people were still out on the Nelson site, which is a two-minute boat ride from Neco, so Joe grabbed a small boat and we headed over to visit them and see how their day was going. (Their effort up on the hill in Ngatpang wound up late last week, unfortunately without success.)
No, wait...the entire JPAC team was leaving the barge just as we pulled up, so we followed them on the 30-second ride to the nearby dock and had a short visit. We also took the opportunity to show yesterday's mine photo to their EOD expert, who said that it's most likely a Japanese beach mine - which would explain why there's a large number of them down in the mangroves in that area. He'll study up on them and get back to us.
Now it was time to head back to the hotel. No, really. Back for a data-analysis and creation-of-a-presentation-for-the-President session. We did that.
Oh, yeah - here's another still shot of the tail section of the B-24:
Onward and upward! Strength through joy!