Below the water’s surface of Kāneʻohe Bay lies an archaeologic relic. Near the ocean floor, fish swim around and within the wreckage of a Catalina PBY-5, a seaplane that was destroyed during the Japanese attack on Oahu’s Pearl Harbor. In total, 27 of these planes were destroyed and six were damaged. These planes were bombed a few short minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Archaeologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Univ. of Hawaii recently released images of one of these planes.
“The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack,” said Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7.”
After two separate attempts to photograph the site—one in 1994 and another 2008, both foiled by the bay’s murky waters—a student team from the university’s Hawaii Marine Option Program returned to the site in June 2015, when visibility was better. Van Tilburg coordinated the effort.
The plane lies 30 ft below the surface in three pieces. It “is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, which prohibits unauthorized disturbances of military vessels or planes owned by the U.S. government, as well as foreign sunken military craft that lie within U.S. waters,” according to the NOAA.
Images from the expedition show interior and exterior shots of the craft, reclaimed by the silt and the surrounding ecology.
Though the identity of the craft remains elusive, Van Tilburg suggests the crew died while attempting to take off during the attack.
“We’re excited to partner with NOAA in order to create these unique and important opportunities for our students,” said Cynthia L. Hunter, the Marine Option Program director. “Partnerships like this provide a means by which forgotten history is remembered, and stories like those of the PBY fleet can be shared with new generations, including students who worked to map the wreck.”