Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Mars" is found in seafloor survey around Japanese Mini-Submarine


December 14, 2004

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
View of Marshall Mars showing the size of
the “flying boat” aircraft. Credit “NOAA/HURL".

A watery grave off the Hawaiian coast is yielding answers about World War II-era aircraft and ships. Explorer-researchers from NOAA and the University of Hawaii joined with colleagues from the National Park Service on an ocean mission off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, to document sites where historic seaplanes, or flying boats, rest on the ocean floor. The joint-agency team surveyed an area around the site of a Japanese mini-submarine that was discovered by NOAA and the University of Hawaii in 2002.

NOAA marine archaeologists conducted two days of survey dives, December 9 and 10, outside of Pearl Harbor. Hans Van Tilburg and Kelly Gleason of the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program and LT. Jeremy Weirich of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration conducted non-invasive documentation of known underwater shipwreck and aircraft crash sites of U.S. Navy flying boats dating from as early as the 1920s. They were joined by Jon Jarvis, regional director of the National Park Service and Doug Lentz, Pearl Harbor National Park Service superintendent.

"To create an inventory of historic items, we're using Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles to systematically explore the ocean off Pearl Harbor," said Weirich. "That inventory will help us make better management decisions."

One seaplane site documented was the Navy's Marshall Mars, a giant flying boat with a 200-foot wingspan that was forced by an engine fire to land at sea off Oahu in 1950, where the seaplane exploded, burned, broke into pieces and sank with no loss of life. The Mars series of aircraft was built to move cargo, primarily between California and Hawaii, and Marshall Mars once carried more than 308 people aloft, a record at the time.

"We really value the partnership between NOAA, the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory and the National Park Service," said Jarvis, "because it combines our expertise in documenting these important underwater resources."

"This survey means a lot," added Lentz. "We're working with NOAA to survey a wider area around the site of the Japanese mini-submarine to determine if there are other resources in the area we want to protect."

When the mini-submarine was discovered in 2002, the four-inch hole in its conning tower was evidence that crewmembers of the U.S. destroyer Ward were right when they claimed to have fired the nation's first shot of World War II, more than a hour before the air attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In February 2004, the Government of Japan agreed that the mini-submarine was now the property of the U.S. government.

"Submerged historic wreck sites are like time capsules from our maritime past," said NOAA National Marine Sanctuary maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg. "In this case, naval aircraft sites shed light on our technological capabilities both before and during World War II. Seaplanes and flying boats played a critical role in Hawaii and the Pacific."

Larger view of the nose of the Marshall Mars resting
upside down on the seafloor. Credit “NOAA/HURL".

George Hutton was a Navy aviation radioman who flew in four of the five Mars seaplanes, including the Marshall Mars. "She was a fine flying boat," he said, "but take off and landing could be a little hairy, depending on the seas." During one port visit, he walked on the Mars wing. "It was like a football field," he said. Hutton was in the Marshall Mars on the first flight of a Mars aircraft west of Hawaii, opening what would become regular routes to the Philippines, and he was thrilled to be in the first Mars seaplane to make a jet-assisted takeoff. In the 1940s and 50s, stories about the Mars seaplanes referred to crewmembers as "Men from Mars," and when an aircraft set a new record for persons aloft, media reported "Mars is Well-Inhabited."

The seafloor survey mission used HURL’s Pisces IV and V research submersibles and at a depth of about 1,400 feet, researchers recorded images of the crash sites, using digital video and still cameras. The three-man submersibles, capable of diving to 6,000 feet, were piloted by HURL's senior pilot Terry Kerby and Pilot Max Cremer. Chris Kelley of HURL used sonar to assist in mapping the sites and in searching for other heritage resources.

Marshall Mars artifacts were first discovered during HURL dives in August 2004. Earlier naval aviation sites in the area have been located, but their identities have yet to be confirmed.

In August, when Kerby and others discovered the nose and keel of what appeared to be a seaplane, Kerby maneuvered the submersible close to the aircraft's nose where the explorers could clearly read the painted word "Marshall." They didn't know what they had until HURL's Steve Price did some research. "Steve showed me the great photo of sailors standing on the wing of Marshall Mars, and the word "Marshall," on the seaplane's nose was exciting to see, and took my memory back to that first day of discovery."

Kerby's excitement was intact on December 9 after a day of exploring. He had just brought the Pisces submersible back to the research ship, and he had new discoveries to describe. "We maneuvered near aircraft debris that was bent and corroded aluminum with traces of dark blue paint. Then we came upon a huge engine, nose in to the bottom. Further on, we saw propellers sticking up, some straight, some twisted, and as we turned the sub, we saw the propellers were attached to a second huge engine that was still on the wing. And then we discovered a third engine. We knew we'd found the main body of Marshall Mars."

The mission results will aid in documentation of aviation crash sites and shipwrecks that will yield information about loss events and site interaction with the marine environment. They will also help confirm the identity and location of submerged cultural resources located within Hawaii's protected marine areas.

"Preservation legislation supports the survey and inventory of these types of sites," Van Tilburg said. "Navy ships and aircraft are specifically protected as state vessels and often as potential wargraves."

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

NOAA's mission includes exploration of the oceans for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. Ocean Exploration benefits NOAA and the nation by supporting a program of exploration across many scientific, cultural and technological disciplines, and among many participants. The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration promotes discovery-based science, collaboration, education and outreach.

The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, or HURL, was established by NOAA and the University of Hawaii. Its mission is to study deep water marine processes in the Pacific Ocean.NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web SitesNOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

NOAA Reports Discovery of Japanese World War II Submarine

Media Contact:Fred Gorell, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, (301) 713-9444 ext. 181



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