We wrapped up our first full day on Yap and it has been eventful in many ways including someone “feeding the fish”, deep dives and some messy jungle work. If you read my Day 1 blog you would know that Mark Noah with the History Flight organization did not make it to Yap on Sunday with the side scanning sonar and other underwater search equipment. Mark is now scheduled to arrive Tuesday evening. We decided to get out to my uncle’s crash site and continue to try the needle in the haystack approach by randomly diving the SE reef until Mark arrives with the equipment. It sounded like a great plan until we realized that we were still jet lagged as we boated down the coast of Yap in large swells this morning. I had my prescription sea sick patch on so I was able to weather the rough seas but Cherie started feeling ill before we hit the water. Once we found the dive location the Yapese guide asked us to wait while they positioned the boat so we could dive with the current. By the time we positioned the boat Cherie was feeling ill and starting to look green. We decided the best path was to get in the water ASAP and get under the swells. This usually works for me so we splashed off the boat and made our way down to 120 feet along the SE reef wall. At 120 feet we started following the reef wall with the current while looking for anything on the sea floor that resembled aircraft wreckage. We saw a lot of beautiful sights including schools of fish, a few sharks but no aircraft. After a 45 minute dive we worked our way back up to a decompression stop between 20-30 feet. The seas were very rough above us therefore we floated like fishing bobbers under the water waiting to surface. I could tell Cherie was not feeling well at the deco stop and when she broke the surface it was completely clear she needed to get into the boat. Without going into any gory details let’s just say Cherie fed the fish over the side of the boat. We decided it was not wise to do a second dive with Cherie being sick and the seas so rough. We returned to the Manta Ray Hotel and helped nurse Cherie back to health with lunch. After lunch we headed out to the old Japanese airstrip to look for two American planes and crews lost in 1944 and 1945. One is a TBM Avenger with a crew of three that lost a wing during a bombing run and crashed near the NE corner of the runway. The other is an F6F-5 Hellcat that was shot down while on a low altitude strafing base over the runway. Both planes went down near the NE corner of the runway. More information about the losses can viewed at the following links.
We were joined by Stan Gajda who is being sponsored by the History Flight organization. Stan helped locate the wing of the Avenger last year so we had a head start on finding the crash site. The Avenger wreckage was located after the war and photographed by the American grave registration team, however, only one set of remains were returned home from the crew of three (the pictures can be viewed at the link above). Using the old photographs Stan was able to locate the wing of the TBM that separated due to structural failure as the plane made a steep dive on the airfield. We locate the wing and took time to examine, photograph and document the wing to make sure it was part of the TBM wreckage. I have no doubts after examining the wing that it is part of the TBM wreckage. We spent the afternoon searching through the jungle on the NE side of the old airfield to find any additional wreckage from the TBM or the Hellcat. We located a number of Japanese wreck sites throughout the afternoon including a number of A6M & AM5 Zero sites and a Betty bomber. One Zero site was especially interesting since the plane was sitting on the edge of a bomb crater and everything was still intact with the exception of the tail. The plane was parked in this location during the war when an American bomb hit behind the plane and blew a huge 20-30 ft crater and destroyed the tail of the plane. The cockpit still had some working switches and the canopy was still on the plane. Although the tail is missing, this is one of the better Zero wreck sites in the island. The other sites were very messy to review. We looked through all the Japanese wreckage trying to identify any American parts mixed into the mess. In the end, we were not able to locate additional wreckage for either American plane today. We talked to the local villagers about helping us find additional wreckage in the swampy areas. This type of conversation in past years has resulting in villages coming to find us later in the week with news about other wreckage to review. We will return to the airfield site later in the week.
We stopped by the home of one of the elders we had talked to in 2005 and 2006, Alex. He was in Guam due to a medical issue therefore we talked to his son. He confirmed with us that Alex knows about the two B-24’s in the water and watched one of them go down off the channels. It would have been nice to talk to Alex once again but hearing the information from his son was helpful that we are in the right direction. At Alex’s home we examined an old cannon that his family found on a ship wreck near the SE reef. It’s amazing to the see the items at Alex’s house including Japanese 20 mm cannons he took out of the wings of a plane and American propellers that we believe were taken of the Joseph Cox Hellcat that crashed on 6 September 1944. We plan to visit the Cox and Lt. Brown Hellcat crash sites on Tuesday.
We returned to the hotel exhausted from crawling through the hot jungle. It’s always nice to return to the Manta Ray Hotel and have a nice meal and relax in the pool on a hot Micronesian evening. After dinner I was able to meet Brian Green. Brian contacted me a few years ago before he moved to Yap to work as a marine biologist. Brian has the ability to dive to 600 feet using re-breather equipment. His deep dives take up to 8 hours. Brian is willing to help us find the B-24 sites once we locate them on sonar later in the week. So we end the night with our fingers crossed that Mark Noah will arrive with the sonar in a few days. The combination of Mark’s sonar and Brian’s deep diving abilities might be the key to finding my uncle’s plane.
Pat & Cherie Ranfranz, Yap Island, Sunday, October 05 2008
[ October 08, 2008, 06:36 AM: Message edited by: Patrick Ranfranz ]
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