P-MAN VII Update
Tuesday 15 February
Pat arrived here a day before the rest of us. The morning of the 15th, he met with five members of JPAC: four Navy divers and their officer in charge. They're the advance team for the mission on which they'll attempt to recover remains from the B-24 site. The group made three dives on the site and got thoroughly oriented to it. They also became thoroughly impressed with Joe's navigational ability.
In the early evening, Pat gave an invited presentation at Sam's Tours, which Sam had obviously done a great job of promoting. There were about 80 people in attendance. The presentation generated a ton of interest, and may produce some useful information down the road.
While all that was going on, Flip, Mark & Jennifer, and Reid were winging their way to Palau. We met up with Flip on Guam, after all of us had had relatively uneventful flights to that point. The flight to Koror was delayed for 90 minutes or so while a faulty runway light circuit was repaired. The delay was long enough for them to allow all passengers to deplane and roam around the airport for a bit, but not too long to totally trash anyone's schedule.
Pat met us at the airport a little after 10 p.m. We dropped Mark and Jennifer off at the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR), where we stopped briefly to watch the moon setting over the ocean and sip a cold beverage. The rest of us then checked into our quarters at the West Plaza Malakal, and crashed.
Wednesday 16 February
We got together with Chip and Pam Lambert (whose last participation on a P-MAN team was in 2000) and had a slow breakfast at our hotel, then divided up to do some preliminary stuff, leaving Pat at the hotel to put the finishing touches on a presentation for the Council of Chiefs later in the day. We picked up some boxes at the post office that Pat had shipped a few days earlier. We visited Kenji, the owner of the property in Airai on which the FM2 site is located, to thank him for his help last year and Kenji graciously granted us permission to do some more investigation at that site this year. We visited the PALARIS office (Palau Automated Land and Resource Information System) to pay our respects,, but our main contacts from last year are presently off-island and won't return for a couple of weeks. We'll go back later. We stocked up on groceries. We dropped by Neco Marine so Flip and I could check in, refresh our diving credentials, and set up accounts.
We gathered together at noon or so and headed over to the Council of Chiefs meeting, which had been set up for us by Surangel Whipps, Jr. Pat's presentation was again very well received. Several of the chiefs expressed amazement to learn that there are still so many MIA American airmen. We're hoping that some of them will come up with some useful leads.
We dropped by President Remengesau's office and spent a few minutes talking with Billy Kuartei, the President's Chief of Staff. He'll try to get us on the President's calendar for a meeting to bring him up to speed on JPAC's plans for the B-24 mission.
We dropped by the Palauan Navy's office and talked briefly with Commander Matt Brown (Australian Navy), who is an adviser to the Palauan Navy. Turns out that his background is in diving, so we invited him to have dinner with us and the JPAC team this evening. He and his wife were able to join us.
This JPAC team is outstanding, and we're all absolutely delighted to know that the B-24 recovery mission will be in such capable and dedicated hands.
As of the end of the day we hadn't yet had a chance to set up an Internet account that will allow me to transfer files to the BentProp Web site, so that's why y'all have had to wait so long to read this first report.
Thursday 17 February
Today was planned as a day to take an acquaintance of Joe's out with us on the boat to a spot near the seaplane ramp on the north side of Arakabesan where he reports having seen (and fished near) some aircraft wreckage. We believe that an F6F Hellcat crashed in this location, and we tried without success to locate it on one dive last year.
Things went smoothly right up to the part where Joe's acquaintance wasn't able to show up. We decided to head up to that area north of Arakabesan anyway, and see what we could find. Joe eased the boat up in the shallow area beside the seaplane ramp and asked a Palauan who was standing nearby if he knew of any aircraft wreckage in the area. The man indicated that he'd seen some, fairly close to the ramp toward the northwest. We anchored the boat out in that direction and made a broad 6-diver sweep outbound on a northwesterly heading, then swung around and came back to the boat. On the way out, a couple of us saw what appears to be a pair of Jake floats, one on top of the other, in fairly shallow water (40 feet or so). On the way back, several of us also saw some additional debris, including what looked like a portion of fuselage structure with tubular-steel-truss construction. If it is aircraft in origin, it's a puzzle - we're not aware of any WWII aircraft that might have been lost in the area that had "tube-and-rag" construction.
On a second dive, some members of the team saw the earlier floats and some saw some additional pieces of what appears to be faired aircraft structure, and large-diameter tubes, part of which shows obvious signs of having been burned. During both of these dives there was a strong northeasterly wind and the water was pretty choppy, making it difficult to recognize underwater landmarks from the surface that would allow us to characterize the location visually. We're planning to come back tomorrow with Joe's friend, who we're guessing will take us to roughly the same area - but we have to take him out there to be sure. This area definitely deserves more attention.
On the way back in to Neco Marine, we stopped by a spot near the back side of Palau Pacific Resort where Rawllin, one of last year's SeaBee apprentices, told us he'd seen a "torpedo" near a small boat ramp. Some of the team snorkeled around this shallow area and in the location that Rawllin had described, we found a tubular object that appears to be a boiler.
After returning to Neco, we had a debriefing at The Dropoff, a new watering hole next door, then formed up for dinner at the spot next to our hotel where they actually brew Red Rooster beer in several variations. Red Rooster is widely renowned as being an anchor point on the scale
Bad Beer <------------------------> Good Beer
We always try to have one Red Rooster early in each trip to Palau, to help re-calibrate our concept of one end of this scale. Taste scales are notoriously subjective...
Tomorrow, we'll pick up Joe's acquaintance and head out to the area where we dove yesterday, to see if he can help us shed some light on the location and distribution of wreckage north of the seaplane ramp.