P-MAN VI Update #18
Tuesday, February 3, and Wednesday, February 4, 2004

On Tuesday morning we dropped by Neco Marine to copy the 3-minute video from mini-dv format to VHS so we could give copies to President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., Governor Shallum Etpison, and Rita Ulsudong at the Historical Preservation Office. Then we headed over to the President's office, where we were met by his Chief of Staff, Billy Kuartei, who ushered us into the President's conference room. The President is a busy man, but had graciously agreed to see us on less than a day's notice. We were joined early in the meeting by Shallum, the Governor of Ngatpang State.

Pat began by describing the history of the new B-24 crash site and the BentProp team's efforts over the past 8 years to find it. We showed the group the video that Jennifer and Pete assembled last night from the material shot three days ago by Bert Yates. And we gave copies of some still photos and the Missing Air Crew Report on the new B-24's mission to the President and Shallum. It was clear that all present shared the same concern: to ensure that this B-24 site does not become a popular dive location, which will make it virtually certain that the site will be stripped of all historical and archaeological value in a short time. It will definitely help to have the weight of the President's office behind everyone's intention to protect the site. We'll probably take the President out to the site on Friday, for a dive (he's an avid diver).

Next, we did virtually the same presentation for Rita Ulsudong and Vicky Canai at the Historical Preservation Office. Rita, with whom the BentProp team has interacted for some time, has a background in archaeology, and was incredibly excited at news of the find and the package of information (including a copy of the video) that accompanied the presentation. Between these folks and the President, we've set in motion practically every mechanism that exists to protect the B-24 site.

After lunch, we headed over to Sam's Tours to meet with Ron Leidich, who has been leading sea kayak tours around this area for many years. Ron is the founder of Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours. Ron and Dennis Whalen, a commercial diver, took us on a short boat ride from the dock at Sam's to see some debris that Ron and Dennis had found some time ago. The shallowest stuff appears to be pieces of aircraft tail surfaces. In the same location was a tall, thin battery that no one could identify. This is near a flap that Dennis showed Pat a year or two ago, and a piece of wing in deeper water that Dennis recently spotted while looking for an anchor of his that someone lost in the area. These objects are near a small island that Ron, Pat, and Pete explored for awhile, with no success.

Then it was back to Sam's for dinner and more WWII history-storytelling. We only scratched the surface of the story swapping with Ron, so we made a date to do a dueling-laptop-powerpoint-presentation session over dinner tomorrow night.


Today, Wednesday the 4th, Joe grabbed a small boat and we headed back to the old Malakal lighthouse, pretty much directly south of Malakal on the island of Urukthapel. This is the place where two different individuals claim to have seen the front part of a single-engine aircraft with bones still in the cockpit. An older Palauan whom Joe knows has been promising for the last couple of weeks to draw a map showing the location of the aircraft relative to the light, which is way up on top of a ridge - a pretty long hike up from the water. We did some searching there a couple of weeks ago with a young Palauan man who saw the aircraft a few months ago while he was up there hunting with his brother, but was unable to locate it on our trip. The older gentleman, unfortunately, has been in the hospital for several days. He described to Joe where we should be looking, but just hasn't been up to drawing the map, so we decided to go back and take a shot based on the verbal instructions.

After a more leisurely trip up than we did last time with Robby and Chief Grant, we decided to spread out and make a pass along the southwest side of a ridge that drops sharply down from the light. The jungle is fairly dense there, and it's arranged on a slope that in many places is roughly 60 degrees down, covered with crumbly, moss-covered, sharp, leafy, wet, viny, root-filled coral rock. Most anywhere you stand, you don't have to lean very far on the up-hill side to touch the ground. Lots of spiders, a few small snakes, and tons of "Poison Trees," which exude black sap that can produce severe contact dermatitis. Plenty warm. No breeze. Sweating doesn't help, but you do enough of it to look like you've been standing in the rain for an hour - shirts, pants, hats, and gloves are completely soaked within the first 5 minutes.

We found nothing.

So we rested, hydrated, and snacked, then made another pass along the southeast side of the ridge, up and over, and back to the starting point on the southwest side. Nothing. But we've now clearly covered the areas that both witnesses described. So despite the tantalizing nature of the stories, we've decided not to go back until we get a more detailed statement of the location, or run into someone who can take us there, based on RECENT experience.

After hiking back down to the boat, we drove around the point south of the ridge we'd been climbing on, to a small beach where Joe had seen a radial engine sticking up out of the sand (on the beach), with most of the exposed propeller obviously cut off with a hacksaw. We beached the boat and explored the engine. It didn't immediately look American, but we didn't have much information - and the tide was coming in, gradually covering the engine with water. We did a little exploring in the jungle directly above the engine, but found nothing. Then headed back to Neco Marine.

Last night, we had made a date to get together tonight with Ron Leidich, so Pat could show Ron his most current PowerPoint presentation on BentProp's findings, and so Ron could show all of us a presentation that he's put together. One of the extremely cool things that Ron does on his local kayak tours is to take his guests around to various places of WWII military significance, and visit sites in the order in which battles or other actions took place. He has assembled a great collection of photos, maps, quotes, and lore that he presents at the various locations, to drive the lesson home at a really personal level. Putting human faces and human context to the stories has to make the experience much more interesting and memorable.

We were seriously impressed with the material that Ron has assembled and presented. He's clearly dedicated both to telling a complete and accurate story of Palau's involvement in the war in the Pacific, and to preparing the young Palauan guides who work for him to tell the stories, too.

Before we went our separate ways, Ron solved the mystery of the engine that we saw this afternoon, buried in the sand. He said that awhile back, he and a friend uncovered a nearly complete seaplane float, buried in the sand right next to the engine. That strongly suggests that the engine is from a Japanese "Jake," so we don't plan to research it further.

Tomorrow, we may have a chance to go back to the Nelson Corsair site in the waters of Malakal Harbor and watch some of JPAC's current efforts to locate remains.

Onward and upward! Strength through joy!

- Reid