P-MAN IX Update #07
19-20 February 2007

19 February

Hello Everyone!

The morning started off great! I hadn’t been billed for a transmission repair yet.

DOB made another great breakfast. I prepped lunch and we headed out. All the way to Neco Marine: 200 yards away. We were invited out to a barge off of the big island of Babelthuap. Have to use a boat to get there.

The barge is being used by JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command). They’re doing a recovery mission on the B-24 we found a few years ago. You last saw this aircraft in my update when Tommy Doyle came out to dive on his Dad’s airplane. Jimmie Doyle was the tail gunner on this B-24.

JPAC brought a team of Navy Salvage Divers (MDSU, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit) along to do the heavy lifting. Literally. They propped up the fuselage of the aircraft by constructing a cradle so it would be stable to do their work. They also do the suctioning of the sand and silt along the ocean bottom as well as the contents of the airplane and move all of that to a basket that a crane has to lift up onto the barge. Then the JPAC team members sift through all of this looking for signs of the crew. They look for human remains, life support equipment and any personal or military equipment that might help identify a MIA.

There are over 25 people, including 2 anthropologists, working the site. There is a possibility that 8 MIAs could be brought home.


Yes, overall, these are pretty lame photos from the barge visit. I always seemed to be 30 seconds out of synch with what was going on. So, you see two helmets in the water, rather than their splash in. And above, you see the Admiral’s back. I promise I’ll do better.

In addition to the barge team, JPAC is doing a side scanning sonar survey of the bays and harbors around Malakal and Koror. There were quite a number of airplanes shot down in the waters around Koror and Malakal. There are so many that we should have been finding some every year we’ve been here. But we haven’t. A few years ago Pat proposed that JPAC do this survey. It took a few years but here they are.

We got a great tour of the barge setup. There were a couple of divers on the barge that we had met two years ago when JPAC started work on the B-24 and they were here again. We got to see the divers doing their thing as they had a video link to a helmet cam on the working divers. Then the material that is lifted to the barge is sifted in a wet screen sorting process. Every little bit that is brought up is examined. A few clues were brought up that might help make some identifications.

A little bit later, Rear Admiral Leidig, COMNAVFORMAR arrived. He is the boss of the CAT (Civic Action Team) that is in Palau. He came for an inspection of the CAT Detachment and his staff also arranged for a tour of a JPAC operation. JPAC wanted him to meet us as everything that was going on was due to Pat’s 10 year search for this aircraft. We’re also pretty sure the Admiral thinks we’re stalking him because for the rest of his time here, we seemed to be in the same locations: Neco, heli-pad, PPR etc.

The CAT groups used to just be SeaBees. But when the number of CAT groups around the Pacific decreased to one, the CAT Detachment in Palau became a joint forces duty station. Sometimes it’s an Air Force group as this one is, and sometimes it’s a Navy SeaBee group. Either way, they do great things here in Palau such as installing runway lights on the Peleliu and Anguar airports. The Admiral was here to commission the new runway lighting systems that will allow Peleliu and Anguar to be more useful to The Palauans.

Mason Whipps, who loaned us the van, was very gracious about me rendering his vehicle useless. He still hadn’t heard from his mechanics so we still did not know the disposition of it. I hoped I was not on the hook for a new van.

Once the meet-and-greet was over, we headed out to meet Rubas Obek who was going to take us to wreckage he knew about. If you get someone to take you to supposed crash sites, there is a possibility that the wreckage is really there. If they just point you in the right direction and say good luck, then the odds of seeing anything are really, really small.

The JPAC sonar team went along with us as the anthropologist wanted to see the stuff too. We needed to go to this new stuff at low tide and we had a bit of time until that occurred. We had lunch at the pier that we picked up Mr. Obek. Then we took the JPAC folks to the Avenger wing that we found a few years ago. It is inside the mangrove in the area we were about to search. We took a few pictures of the wing and came out.

We were hoping that we would find more wreckage that would confirm which Avenger this wing belonged to. Unfortunately, Rubas could not locate the parts. We did some search patterns across the now exposed flats with no luck. It’s very likely that the parts are all covered up by mangrove silt and sand. In which case, we’ll come back with metal detectors to search again.

Had a swim call just off the flats and we could dive down and find some nice cold water to refresh in. Walking through the mangroves and across hundreds of yards of mud flats is not an easy task. It was nice just to play a bit in the water.

We headed back in as we did not have much else to do with a boat that day. Rubas says he’s going to try and locate the parts he saw. It could be someone salvaged them since he last saw them. It’s just as likely that they are covered up. Hopefully he’ll come through before we leave.

We did get word that the transmission repair would break the bank: $90.00. They say all that was wrong was the transmission fluid was low. We got the bill and the van back. We’ve paid the bill, the team says it’s a team expense, and the van does run. The red intercooler light still comes on, and the key is difficult to get out of the ignition. And I’m still not allowed to drive it on Babelthuap. I’m sure there is more story to come about the van.

We met the JPAC team that joined us on the water for dinner at the Rock Island Café . We talked about all sorts of things and just enjoyed the camaraderie of teammates out on The Ville.

And that wraps up the 19th.

20 February

We started a little later than normal. We had some errands to take care of. The first stop was Neco Marine to return some water jugs and get new ones. You have to have bottled water while in Palau. There is even a sign in the bathroom not to drink the tap water. And if you’re hiking the jungles of Palau, you need a lot of water. Neco cuts us a deal on gallon jugs. But we have to return our empties for refilling.

While at Neco, we ran into the Admiral on his way to Peleliu.

There is a helicopter in Palau now. We had met the operator of this bird a few nights ago. He’s very keen on aviation and wanted to chat with us about our project. We wanted to rent his helicopter for some searching. We came to a mutually agreeable solution and will probably go flying with him in a few days. We also ran into the Admiral again at the heli-pad. I wanted to keep this going and thought we should call someone on Peleliu so they could say hi from us to the Admiral. Kind of like the joke about “who’s that guy standing next to Joe?”

Then we delivered some maps to the Vice President, the Historical Preservation Office , and a couple of other government offices. This was a map of mine fields that were set by the Japanese during the war on the islands of Arakabesan, Koror and Malakal. The mine fields ‘probably’ do not exist now. However, not every mine was recovered after the war. That’s a problem since these three islands are heavily populated. We thought the government should know about these maps.

Now is a great time to introduce you to another researcher who helps BentProp: Mr. Minoru Kamada. Mr. Kamada is a Military Historian in Tokyo, Japan and seems to be able to find info for us that is helpful to our quests, and otherwise inaccessible to us. Sometimes Pat asks questions and sometimes Minoru just sends stuff. He’s been a valuable resource. And he’s willing to go to great lengths to help us and Palau. The minefield maps were hanging on a wall in the Military Archives. However, the Japanese rules are that you cannot take photographs of any archival material. A third party contractor has to do the work. Of course you have to pay for that and it takes time. So Minoru hand traced the minefield charts so we could deliver them to the Palauans while we were here. Now that is above and beyond!

After all of our errands were done we drove up to the big island to start our interviews. We scoped out the area of interest from a high road in the hills.

See the green area? That’s our search area!

Just a pretty flower.

Then we drove to Ngatpang and had lunch on the ocean.

Terrible place to have lunch.

We found some folks to chat with after we drove off the pier. We chatted with some local hunters, a Chief, an elder and a couple of sons of people who lived on Babelthuap during the war.

Left photo by Flip, right photo by DOB

I had video duties today while Bob asked the questions.
Joe was interpreting, of course. This photo and the two below by DOB


The elder we spoke with was fascinating. It seems he may have witnessed up to four airplanes crash in the area. We asked him lots of questions and he was very forthcoming. It has been 62 years since most of this happened but he was able to recall a lot of detail. It could not give us ‘the smoking gun’, but did give us a lot. He also reiterated that the elders are dying out. All of his friends from that time are gone.

We came back to Koror, dropped off our stuff at the hotel and then turned around and went out for dinner. Japanese tonight and on Bob Holler’s suggestion, I had the best bowl of Udong I’ve ever had. He also made fun of me for sticking with my Windows computer while he used his MAC. I may have to rethink my aversion to that bit of hardware.

Now I’m writing to you. It may not seem as if we made much progress yesterday or today. But we did. We’re picking up valuable clues to help us find some more wreck sites. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get more good intel tomorrow that will give us a warm fuzzy feeling about going into the jungle. It’s a big section of land that this one airplane is in and we really would like to narrow down the search area. By tomorrow afternoon, I’m sure we will.

So back at ya. More later as it transpires.

Blue Skies, Flip