P-MAN IX Update #09
23 Feb 2007

Hello Everyone!

This was a great hiking day. And we got some interviews in. But first, your favorite section: lessons learned.

  1. If you debrief in the evening, something to do the next day, you really ought to remember to do it.
  2. Don’t give Joe, The Palauan Guide par excellence, the topo map when you know nothing of the area.
  3. When divvying up the radio supply, maybe Joe who goes off on his own should have one, rather than bunching up three radios within 50 feet of each other.
  4. Sometimes you get really good intel, and it just doesn’t get you what you want.
  5. Bob’s GPS antenna is far superior to any previous GPS unit we’ve had in the field.
  6. Cabela's Elks Skin gloves are fantastic! Thank you Greg Meadows.

So there we were. Today’s adventure was to search a jungle section near where we were looking the other day. (So you’re probably wondering why doesn’t he say ‘such and such’ a village, town, state, etc? Since we are looking for MIAs, and there is a chance they are still in or near their aircraft, we don’t want fortune hunters or souvenir collectors disturbing the sites. If we give up too much information, well, that would be bad. So don’t you go off trying to look for hiking trophies!) Our preferred entry point was through the Taiwanese Agricultural Station that I mentioned in a previous update. However, when we talked with the onsite manager, he said we would have to get an authorization from his boss in Koror.

So this morning Pat typed up a letter requesting permission. Knowing how functionaries can be, we tried to figure out how long it would take to get this permission. And if we did not get it today, how we would proceed by bypassing the Taiwanese Station.

Since this seemed like office work, most of us stayed in the car. Pat and Joe went in. A few minutes later, they came out carrying fruit trays. It seems that this boss gets what we do. He insisted we get to it today and hopes we find what we are looking for. And the fruit trays were samples of what they are growing on the farm: star fruit, wax apple, guava, papaya and cherry tomatoes. Good eating in the van.

Out to the farm and drove as far as we could through their fields. Changed into our hiking duds which include hiking boots and thick socks, long pants that tighten around the ankles, long sleeve shirt, bandana, hat, sunglasses, gloves, deet and sunscreen. Then we strapped on our accoutrements: Camelbacks with 3 liters of water each, rain gear, compasses, GPS units (Shameless marketing alert. Garmin’s 60 CSX is killer in the jungle. We’ve always lost satellite signals in the jungle with any other GPS unit we’ve ever used. But even in the thickest stuff, Bob’s GPS easily has 4 sats all the time and sometimes more. IF any one knows someone at Garmin HQ, can you get them to comp me one?) and cameras with spare batteries and memory cards. And off we went. For about 10 yards. I stopped to take a picture.

Today, I needed both batteries and the spare card. I turned on my camera and nothing happened. I did not even get a low battery warning either yesterday or today. So I swapped out batteries and again, nothing happened. A third set of batteries came out and I had a warning note that no memory card was installed. I must have left it in the reader when I transferred pictures to my computer. Pulled out the spare one and I was ready to go. So off we went.

10 yards later, I called a halt again. My shoes came untied. Off we went again. And we didn’t stop until we found our entry point for the jungle.

Simeon, who took us to an island to look for a plane, told us of his times hunting in the area we were about to search. He told us if we went in on a certain heading, we would come to some steel and metal next to the river. It was still on dry land and not in the mangrove or on the river bottom. We took a heading 30 degrees further south and came in. We wanted to make sure we did not miss his location so we figured we would walk to it this way.

However, we did not want to slow Joe down, so he set off on his own. If he had to tag along with us, well, that’s not an effective use of his talents. After he was out of sight, and out of shouting distance, we realized that he had the topo map and we hadn’t given him a radio. Even Palauans get hurt, so not having a radio wasn't going to help him if that came to pass. Joe having the topo map is way too redundant. We really needed it since we do not know the terrain. We use GPS (global positioning system) and Joe uses JPS, (Joe positioning system). Generally, Joe is always within the tolerances of the GPS system.

Well, pretty much what Simeon said came true. We found the steel drums he was talking about as well as a pretty intricate cave system dug into the hillside. We found at least 8 entrances and it looked as if they were all interconnected.

Derek and Pat, post spelunking.

Part of the cave system around the corner
from where Pat and Derek are above.

Sake cup

However, we found very little debris left behind: a sake cup, canteen, helmet, and not much else.

We’re not sure who cleaned it out but this is very typical of former Japanese installations on Babelthuap. Since the American forces never battled for this island, the Japanese seemed to have cleaned up after themselves. There are still all sorts of unexploded ordnance around, but no personal items of any great degree. Especially when you think that there were 25,000 troops on this island at the time of the surrender.

We kept pressing on, keeping a river/mangrove on our right. Now this wasn’t straight line hiking. The river/mangrove meandered quite a bit and so did we. We even found some dead ends as we were trying to follow the river, and stay out of some areas of very tall ferns.

As the biib flies (National bird of Palau.), we covered .5 miles from our let in point. As the people search, well it could have been double that, or more. When we reached what we thought was our turn around time, we turned around. Seems coming out of the jungle goes quicker. We knew we were tired, both physically and mentally so we tightened our search line a bit. Better to search a small area well, rather than search poorly a large area.

We came back into the farm exactly where we let in. Great navigation Bob! We walked over to the first shed and Joe had beaten us out. He hadn’t seen anything but did find some betel nut growing. A quick chat and we went back to the car for lunch. Within just a few minutes, it started raining. For once we were not out in it.

Wonderful leftover lunch from yesterday. The committee lunch yesterday wasn’t consumed. The timing didn’t work out. So we kept it cool and had it today. The bread wasn’t soggy on the sandwiches and the chips were still crisp. The orange wasn’t as sweet and I thought it should be but I’m sure there’s not a storage issue with that.

As it turns out, we were only in the jungle for 4+ hours, but we were sweaty and filthy. The van is starting to take on an odor. Not Bill Belcher - it’s not that bad yet. But I’m sure it will be soon.

Home to the hotel. Relaxing shower and change of clothes. Gather around the computer and Google Earth. The more we play with G.E., the more we really like it. It has 3D renditions of terrain which is really useful for figuring out which way to go. You can use the altitude function as a radar altimeter to figure out height above the ground and many other features. We even cobbled together a hypothetical/possible flight path for this particular aircraft loss.

Out to dinner that was 20 feet from our hotel door. One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Local fish done in a wonderful way. We chatted some more about what to do tomorrow. Then Joe showed up. We had to go as we had an interview with a Chief on Arakabesan.

Pat and the Chief.

The Chief’s son.

Sprang, the Chief’s grandson.

The Chief had also chatted with us two years ago. Last time, we did not ask him about what we're working on this year because last time we weren’t working on it. His son was the interpreter for us. His Dad is in his eighties and according to his son, has had a big change over the last year. His memory is going. He worked for the Japanese throughout the war. Seems he was in the local maritime force. Mostly, he loaded supplies onto small ships and unloaded them at their destination in Palau.

He did not know anything about our current search, but he reported picking up an American who parachuted down from a big airplane. It was towards the end of the war, but he could not be certain when. His boat picked up the American off of Aimeliik and brought him to Koror. Then the American was whisked away and that was all he knew. However, Pat has no idea who this is. We’ll have to do some research to see which aircraft he could have come out of and when.

This Palauan family brought us all cold drinks and asked about us after our interview was over. A good time was had by all.

Now I’m typing. I’m even awake enough to add the pictures and get ready for tomorrow’s adventures.

I hope all is well with you. Take care and don’t forget to hug a vet!

Blue Skies, Flip