P-MAN VI Update #27
Saturday February 14, 2004

Saturday started with the boat, and a short trip with Dennis Whalen, the commercial diver who's working with JPAC on the Nelson site in Malakal Harbor. He and his lovely wife Carol are ex-pats who live aboard a beautiful sailboat that's moored close to Sam's Tours, by the south side of Ngargol. Dennis had led last year's BentProp team to an object that they characterized as a split flap from an Avenger. Since then, Dennis discovered part of a wing in the deeper water nearby, so that was our target for the first dive.

The wing is at about 85 feet, in water that can be pretty clear on an incoming tide, but the bottom of this little channel contains some very fine silt - so unless everyone stays well clear of the bottom, the visibility around an interesting object can rapidly drop to zero.

I went down first with Dennis to take some photos of the object, then we lined up and swam a 7-abreast sweep north to the edge of Ngargol. Most of the area between the wing and the island is filled with that fine silt, so anything not big enough to stick up out of the muck is invisible below the flat, gray bottom. Nearer the island, we found a couple of items not previously noted, including a fairly short piece of a control surface and what appears to be an Avenger split flap. We continued to explore the shallower area near the island on a second dive.

We held a short ceremony back at Dennis's place to present a BentProp coin to Dennis. He's been a great help to our efforts (and definitely to JPAC's!), and we're proud to consider him one of our friends.

After dropping Dennis off, we met three JPAC members at their hotel (today was their day off) and drove back up to the Wildcat crash site in Airai, so Bill Belcher could see what we've found and consider whether this site might be the subject of a future JPAC investigation. We clearly need more information about the likelihood that this is an MIA site, but we're comfortable with our identification of this site as an FM2 Wildcat.

Having brought our party clothes in dry bags, we returned as far as the SeaBees' camp, where they had invited us to attend a fish fry this evening. They graciously (or maybe it was purely self-defense...) allowed us to use their shower facilities to get rid of the Ngargol salt water and Airai swamp juice that we'd accumulated during the day's adventures so far.

They had had a hugely successful fishing trip this morning, and when we arrived they were cleaning and filleting several nice Wahoo and a couple of beautiful Mahi.

One of the SeaBees is Jeff. In SeaBee life Jeff is an electrician, but we (and they) all believe that his ultimate destiny is to become a great chef. Well, maybe that's the wrong way to say it. There's irrefutable evidence that he IS a great chef - all that remains is for him to follow that calling after his Navy days are over. Jeff served up a feast the likes of which most of us can only dream about. Tender deep-fried fish pieces as appetizers. A huge plate of melt-in-your-mouth sashimi that many of us wouldn't even be able to afford in real life. An equally huge plate of masterfully built sushi, that had us all completely awe-struck. And a fish dish that I don't even know how to describe, other than to assure you that it was the best thing I've ever tasted in the from-the-sea food group. Thanks, Jeff! And thanks, SeaBees, for your hospitality, help, and friendship. It's been a pleasure and an honor to hang out with you guys on this trip!

Onward and Upward! Strength through Joy!

- Reid