P-MAN VII Update
7 March 2005
Monday, 7 March
This morning started with considerable uncertainty about what we were going to do, and stayed pretty uncertain until after lunch. Not that we were idle. We spent time over breakfast in the ready room going over plans and making and receiving phone calls. The Ibedul's office called and said that we'd been put on his schedule for a courtesy visit at 11:00 (we needed to drop off a BentProp T-shirt and thank the Ibedul for the chance to do some searching on his private island a couple of days ago).
We made several stops before hitting the Ibedul's office. When we arrived there a few minutes early, we learned that although our appointment was for 11:00, the Ibedul wasn't actually in his office, or even nearby. He was in another meeting. Somewhere else. We waited. Until about noon, when his secretary suggested that maybe we'd like to go to the restaurant next door and have some lunch, then come back. We did that. When we returned, the office was locked up tight.
So we headed to Neco and jumped on Joe's boat. The plan for the boat was to head north to Aimeliik, to try to follow up on some additional information we'd received about wreckage in the mangroves where we just found the new Avenger wing. The report was that about 5 years ago, a couple of Palauans actually removed a substantial-sized aluminum object from a spot near the wing, in order to sell it for scrap. They managed to get it part-way out of the mangroves, but it turned out to be too big for their little boat to float it the rest of the way out, so they just dumped it in its new location and forgot about it.
After a choppy ride up to Aimeliik and a brief rain squall, we found the outlet from the mangroves and eased slowly along the area where Joe believes they said the object wound up. We could easily see the bottom in this area, but it was difficult to see very far into the mangroves. We had a GPS fix for the wing, so we found a spot within a few hundred feet of the wing and tied the boat up.
The plan was to head directly in toward the wing, then spread out and do a sweep westward from the wing - which is where the hunters said the other part was. Sounded like a plan. The visibility was pretty good on the rising tide, and as we headed in, the water was a little over knee-deep. The bad news was that the bottom is soft ooze into which we tended to sink about to the tops of our dive boots, and every few inches there is a mangrove-root structure that looks like a punji stick (as used in Vietnam, punji sticks were sharpened sticks set in holes, on which unwary intruders would impale themselves if they fell in). So the going was slow and cautious. The punji-stick features gradually gave way to full-blown mangrove roots and trees that essentially became the equivalent of a hundred-acre jungle gym. You have to plan every step carefully. Some places are impenetrable. It may take 10 or 15 seconds just to plan your next step.
We moved west to the boundary between the mangroves and the land, without finding anything. Part of the problem, though, was that the tide was continuing to rise, and it was becoming increasingly tough to see anything. By the time we reached the far side, the water was waist-deep. By the time we exited the mangroves on the water side, the water was almost chest-deep (on me, anyway) so returning to the boat was more like swimming than wading. The other part of the problem was lack of good intel. The guy who really knows where this thing is (we assume) had to work today. We're going to see if he might be able to accompany us next weekend and take us right to it. It seemed worth a shot, and we didn't come away with anything more than a bunch of bruises and a few mosquito bites. All in all, a pretty interesting slog through the swamp.
We headed back home, cleaned up, and had a 6:00 appointment to interview the father of Einstein, who was with us a couple of days ago. This man had been an educator for most of his career. He was a teen-age student during the war. He and many of his friends hid out in caves in the rock islands for an extended period during the war, to avoid mistreatment by the Japanese. His stories painted a colorful picture of life in Palau during the '40s.
We headed out to the airport to pick up Tommy and Nancy Doyle. Lots of people got off the airplane. ALL the people got off the airplane. No Doyles. Turns out that their flight was late getting out of Honolulu, and when they arrived in Guam, they'd missed their connection to Koror. By the time they knew they weren't coming, we were already headed for the airport. They'll be in tomorrow night. We'll try again.