P-MAN IX Update #20
11-14 March 2007 (This is by Derek Abbey)

11 March

Well, Flip has departed the Island - so I have been appointed the new Field Reporter. Please ignore my errors in spelling and punctuation.

Most of our day was about lessons learned today. Since it was Flip's last day, it was the last time the entire team would be together this trip. We determined that it would be a good day to review and debrief the mission as a whole. So after breakfast we got down to business. We discussed the gear that we use in the water and in the jungle and what we could use or leave at home next year. It seems that we are mostly happy with what we have, but we still made a few tweaks. We are re-developing our checklists and some of our other protocol.

Joe showed up shortly after we got started and gave us some of his suggestions, which we quickly took to heart. Then Joe told us about what some of the local Palauans had been saying and thinking about BentProp. Over the years, Pat has developed a trust with the local populace that is rarely seen by others from outside the country. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of people who are skeptical of our mission here. Some believe that our mission might not be to find those lost during the war, but a treasure hunt of some sort. So they choose to keep their distance. That is understandable to a certain extent, and we are aware of it, but Joe then told us what he tells people who think that way, and what he thinks about the mission and the Americans who fought here. Joe went on to tell us how Palau and the Palauan people would not be here if those Americans had not come and died here. Those people not only gave their lives for the United States, they gave them for Palau. Palau is a free nation because of their sacrifice. Finding the missing men and returning them to their home and loved ones is what should be done. Hearing that from a man born and raised here is unbelievably touching. You could have heard a pin drop while he spoke.

Throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon, we talked more about what we had found and didn’t find this year. We made some decisions about what we want to do next year and over the next eleven months in preparation for P-MAN X.

The main event for the evening was the dinner we had planned with JPAC. If you have followed the updates the last couple of days, you know that we have found a new establishment that we like to frequent in the evenings, Bandidos. We found out when we arrived that Dave and Margie, the owners, had closed the place down for us when we got there, so it was private party. The dinner turned out to be a success with good times had by all. The JPAC servicemen had a curfew at 10:00PM and several of them stayed until then. The BentProp team did not have the same curfew so we stayed for the rest of the evening and visited with Dave and Margie. We finally made our way out of there at 1:30ish. I guess I should say the team minus Flip, who had to leave around 11:00 to catch his plane home. Which explains why this update lacks pictures. Flip took all the pictures that night and then left the country with his camera.

Earlier morning tomorrow!

12 March

Today was once again dedicated to interviews. Joe met us at the hotel and made some phone calls to let some of the people know we would like to speak with them. The places we were planning on traveling to today were a little out of the way, and it would be better to ensure there was going to be someone there when we got there instead of driving all that way to only find out no one is around. As it turns out, some of the people were not going to be around but others should. Also the governor of one of the states we wanted to talk to was just down the road, so that would be our first stop.

The governor we were meeting governs the state where we found the aircraft in the mangrove. His brother a few years back gave us information that eventually aided us in finding the airplane this year. We wanted to inform him of our find in person and have him forward thanks to his brother for his assistance. His brother is currently ill. He was very happy to hear of our find and offered assistance for our future efforts.

Morning with the Governor!

From there we got into our van and hit the road for the 50-minute drive to our next interview. Recently we were told a story by Joe about a man who had found some bones and with them a dog tag. Apparently the man had died but we were hoping to touch base with any of his friends or relatives that might have heard the story or know the location of the bones/dog tag.

Joe took us to where he thought we might be able to find someone. Good luck - because, as it turns out, the story had changed a little bit and we ended up finding the man that found the bones. He allowed us to interview him and after a short while he told us that there was no dog tag, but he left the bones where they were and he thought they were American. He then told us he knows where they are and would show us today. That got us a little excited, so we all jumped back into the van and head back to town where he said the bones were. On the way we called Rich form JPAC and explained to him the story, he agreed to meet us at the site. Well we arrived at the site and the man took us right to the area and pointed to a spot on the ground. There has been a lot of construction in the area since the time he discovered the bones, but there is still a chance they could still be there.

Some of the local workers became interested in what we were doing and began to ask questions. As it turns out, when they were building up in this area they found several shallow graves and the Palauan officials know about it. After talking to them a little bit more, Rich recalled some of the stuff that they were talking about and as it turns out the remains that they found were other foreigners. BentProp and JPAC are still interested in the site and will delve into it more to see if this could possibly lead to some missing Americans.

Joe translating and interviewing

Is there an American serviceman buried in this spot?

From there we took our guest to lunch before another long drive back to his home. After dropping him off we had time for one more interview. We started looking around the village to find a man we have been trying to locate this entire trip. Finally we found him, but he explained to us he only had about ten minutes to talk. He was 83 years old and had been in the area during the war. Shortly after the interview started, he told us about a plane that he had watched crash into the mangroves nearby. As it turns out, we had found an eyewitness to the crash site we discovered only two weeks ago. BentProp had been looking for this site for ten years and we finally find the eyewitness - after we find the plane! We were still able to pull some valuable information from him and a he ended up talking to us for much more than ten minutes.

The funny part of his story was when he was talking about the plane crash and it going into the mangroves. He had said that no one ever went in there to recover anything from the plane because it was just to thick and ugly. He said in his 83 years he had never heard of anyone going into those mangroves. Then we explained to him how we had gone in there and discovered the wreckage. He seemed to think it was the craziest thing ever and was very entertained by it.

BentProp Team gathered around the eyewitness.

From there we once again jumped in the van and headed back to town. Way too much time in the van today, but with good results! Tomorrow we meet with JPAC in the morning for a trip to show them two more sites and to follow up on a lead we have about wreckage on a small island.

13 March

Up early to meet the JPAC boys and get on the road, or on the water. We are trying to work around the tide so we want to get to our first site relatively early. It is in pretty shallow water ad we decided to not bring tanks, only snorkel gear today. So the shallower the better! We met and hit the road relatively quickly. And only five minutes into our ride we hit rain. Looks like today is going to be a wet day. Well, the rain passed quickly and we got to the site in an expedient manner. The site was another wreck that we discovered this trip. It has had us a little puzzled, but we continue to find more info on it. Today was no different. A few of us quickly jumped in the water and began to outline the site for JPAC. They took a ton of pictures. Which is good, because our underwater photography this year has been lacking because we are without a decent camera. After an hour or so there we decided we should get a move on if we were going to have time for the rest of the things we wanted to do that day.

Pat investigating more wreckage.

Me trying doing same.

So back in the boat we went and headed to land. The next stop was a discovery from last year. This really piqued JPAC’s interest. Rich, the ever-thorough man he is, almost had to be dragged away from the site to get food and water, but we promised him we would come back so he agreed to go. From there we enjoyed a nice lunch before returning to the site. We wanted to take a look inside a local boneyard to compare the prop in the water to a known Japanese prop. Initially when we found the prop in the water we thought it was Japanese because of certain features, but other evidence has changed our mind. So the BentProp team plus George stopped at the bone yard to look at the Japanese propeller and the rest of JPAC returned to the previous site. We found what we were looking for, made the comparisons, took some pictures then coordinated our linkup. It worked out pretty well and we didn’t have to wait too long for Rich to finish his diagrams and measurements.

About that time the rain came, and we moved on to our next site. We got information that there was airplane wreckage on the north side of a small island. The island is only about 150 X 50 meters and it is across a few hundred meters of water that runs into an inlet. We were hoping that with the tide headed out we could just wade across it and get to the island. We got to the inlet and it looked as though it was exactly how we thought it would be so we headed out across the inlet.

Our water crossing, to the island in the distance.

Doesn’t get any better than this.

The rain was coming down pretty good and the water was about 2-3 feet deep, so there was no staying dry now. We waded out to the island, and saw a couple of islands along the way. The island was a small and covered in jagged coral. We searched it north to south and discovered a piece of a external fuel tank in the middle of it. The tank was painted red so we thought that it was Japanese. We took some pictures and waypoints, looked at a couple of small caves on the island with nothing to show. With that we walked back across the inlet and called it a day. The ride back to Neco was a little wet but not too bad.

Those of you that have been following along know about Flip’s adventure in trying to get some boots that he ordered way back near the beginning of the trip. Well, this morning when we got to Neco, there they were waiting for us. Pat had also ordered a pair and was able to enjoy his for the rest of the day, while the rest of us enjoyed the laugh of Flip’s boots finally getting here after Flip left.

Flip’s Boots!!!

14 March

Today will be the last day for our updates from the “field.” Bob leaves this evening and with him goes his wireless server giving us access to the internet. So this will be a short update, mostly just a sign off.

We did do one interview this morning with an older gentleman who was here during and after the war. Pat had done an interview with him a few years ago but we had reason to believe that he might have information leading to a missing Marine Corsair that we are looking for. As it turns out he did not have any new information to give us, we enjoyed talking to him for a short while though.

Since the interview we have been running around town in preparation for our departure. Also on the list in ensuring everything is set for Dan to show his documentary, Last Flight Home, on Pat and some of the BentProp missions that have been done here in Palau. It looks as though it will be a good turn out.

It has been an amazing time.
Thanks for following along.

Semper Fidelis!