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A WWII aircraft crashed 330 feet deep off the coast of Hawaii, created from high-resolution video data from the R / V Petrel ROV.


A team of scientists and archaeological explorers moved and documented the site of a Grumman TBF Avenger off Oahu, Hawaii, 77 years after its loss. The site is believed to be associated with three US servicemen who went missing in action during World War II.

Members of Project Recover, the private research vessel Petrel, and the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) used cutting-edge technology to image the site in deep water in unprecedented detail.

On October 11, 1942, three American TBF-Avengers from VT-3 Squadron collided during a training flight off Kaneohe Naval Air Force Base, now Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Two of the planes crashed into the water immediately at the time of the incident. The six crew members of these two aircraft were killed and are still missing in action. The crew of the third aircraft refloated successfully and were rescued.

The site was first discovered in 1999 by researchers at the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory during a deep-water biological investigation. The largely intact aircraft was filmed by a remote control vehicle (ROV) as it passed. A second site of unidentifiable debris was also recorded 600 meters (2,000 feet) away. The aircraft site was briefly revisited in 2013 by the manned submersible Pisces V during an independent project in the region.

“We had been hoping that someone could fully document these sites for a long time now,” said Steve Price, one of the HURL staff who accompanied the team to the field. “I am grateful to Project Recover and the crew of the R / V Petrel for their assistance.”

UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, led by Andrew Pietruszka, with the crew of R / V Petrel, deployed modern oceanographic instruments in an attempt to move and document the aircraft.

A multibeam scan aboard a ship in the area was carried out by Rob Kraft of R / V Petrel, and very close to where the HURL team photographed an aircraft were signs of man-made debris. A second survey, using a UUV collecting very high-resolution side-scan sonar data, confirmed an object roughly the same size and shape as an airplane on the ocean floor. To accurately map, record and identify the wreckage, high-resolution video cameras deployed on R / V Petrel’s Argus 6000 ROV recorded data over a two-day period.

Pietruszka, Project Recover’s senior archaeologist, described the find: “The indisputable wreckage of a TBF-Avenger lying in over 100 meters (330 feet) of water appeared on screen. The wings appeared almost intact, as did parts of the fuselage. The cockpit area had deteriorated but the three crew positions were still clearly identifiable. ”

The engine rests on the seabed approximately 50 meters from the main site. There was no sign of the tail of the plane. The type of aircraft, location and distribution of aircraft wreckage at the site are all consistent with the historic loss of the two VT-3 Avengers on October 11, 1942. At present, however, researchers are unable determine which of the two planes the site represents. The second debris site was also moved during the project, but was determined not to be aviation related. These are probably the remains of a small to medium size sailboat.

R / V Petrel supported the project on its return trip from Midway where its crew recently discovered two Japanese aircraft carriers, IJN Kaga and IJN Akagi.

“This project was an excellent bookend for our mid-point investigation,” said Robert Kraft, director of underwater operations for Vulcan Inc. “The VT-3, assigned to the USS Yorktown, was the one of three torpedo squadrons that fought in the Battle of Midway. ”

Although no torpedo bomber directly affected the Japanese task force, their attack is credited with the possibility of hitting American dive bombers, which ultimately resulted in the sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers.

“With the VT-3 taking huge losses in the Battle of Midway, this site is associated with the Airmen replacing those who were lost in that battle,” Kraft said.

Details of the site will be shared with the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) of the United States Department of Defense to assess the site for possible recovery of remains. The DPAA is responsible for recovery and repatriation efforts, including notification of families of these AIDs.

“Developing public-private partnerships with groups like Vulcan and the Friedkin Foundation quickly enables our team to help the US government find MIA underwater sites previously thought to be lost forever and close families down.” who have lost loved ones, ”said Eric Terrill, oceanographer at Scripps and co-founder of Project Recover. Project Recover previously worked in the Philippines earlier in 2019 looking for other MAI-related losses.

About Project Recover

In 2014, a partnership called Project Recover was established with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Delaware and the BentProp Project. After receiving financial support from the Friedkin Foundation, Project Recover went global, expanding MIA research operations in 17 countries (as of 2019). In 2018, the project name BentProp was retired and the name 501c3 changed to Project Recover, Inc.

The work combines historical data from many different sources to optimize underwater search areas with scanning sonar, high definition and thermal cameras, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies. These new methods are now being applied globally where military personnel are still missing.

Information about Project Recover’s findings is then passed on to US Government Defense.

MIA / POW accounting agency (DPAA), for formal identification, notification of the family and finally repatriation. Project Recover has a growing footprint, with cases expanding for global research and discovery.

About R / V Petrel

The R / V Petrel is a 250-foot research and exploration vessel owned and operated by Vulcan Inc. Purchased in 2016 and commanded by the late Paul G. Allen, it uses the latest advanced technologies in exploration, surveying, remote sensing and deep diving systems. equipment at 6000 meters. Petrel’s mission is to explore archaeological sites of historical significance, unique marine ecosystems and participate in scientific expeditions through university and government partnerships.


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