Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Korea, US Work Together to Salvage Fighter Jet


The Korea Times
March 27, 2006

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The navies of South Korea and the United States are working closely together to salvage an F-16C fighter that crashed in the West Sea earlier this month, the U.S. military here said Monday.
The U.S. Safeguard, which arrived in the southern military port city of Jinhae on March 16 from Japan, will join the operation with South Korea's warship the Pyongtaek for two weeks, the United States Navy Command based here said in a statement.

The U.S. plane is believed to be under about 20 meters of water about 30 kilometers from coastal Kunsan Air Base in North Cholla Province.

On March 14, the plane's American pilot ejected safely and was later flown back to the U.S. base, where he was treated at a medical clinic and released, according to U.S. military officials.

``The Guardian, which is participating in the Foal Eagle exercise, is also helping the salvage operation by calculating the depth of the sea and the position of the underwater object using sound waves,’’ the statement said.

The Safeguard is planning to deliver the wrecked plane to the U.S. mainland. South Korea and the U.S. are engaged in the biggest combined military exercise of the year on the Korean Peninsula starting Saturday.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Work on Pacific Aviation Museum to start


Pacific Business News
March 17, 2006

Work on the first phase of the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor is scheduled to begin next week with the groundbreaking and blessing on Tuesday.

The proposed $75-million museum is to be built on 16 acres on the Navy-controlled island, which was at the center of the attack by the Japanese in 1941.

The first phase will involve the construction of the museum in Hangar 37 at a cost of $11 million. The museum is scheduled to open in December.

About $13 million has been raised so far, a combination of individual and corporate donations and money from the federal and state governments.

The project is envisioned as a complement to existing historical attractions at Pearl Harbor, including the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri.

The aviation museum will ultimately include displays of aircraft in several restored hangars, the renovation of the distinctive 1930s-era control tower and the preservation of the battle scars that remain on the runways and buildings six decades after the attack.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Restrictions Eased on Historic B-29 Lake Mead Crash Site


March 02, 2006

It's an interesting piece of Southern Nevada History, but no one is allowed to see it. At least until now. But the National Park Service is getting ready to make this artifact available to at least some people.

The plane crashed into the Overton arm of Lake Mead in 1948, and wasn't rediscovered until 53 years later. Since then, it's been closed to the public. Of course, most of the public wouldn't be able to get to it anyhow. This plane is way down there...almost 200 feet.

Ghostly images on a TV screen are all most will ever see of this B-29 superfortess, which went down while doing cold war research.

Russ Green is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is controlling a VideoRay Remote Operational Vehicle (ROV).

"We're looking at an oxygen cylinder...there's several aboard and airplane...that the pilot and crew could breathe oxygen at higher elevations. This one just happened to fall out from the rear of the plane," narrates Green, glancing at the screen.

The crew escaped alive, but the plane has been there ever since. And the National Park Service doesn't want to see that change.

"Removing the plane from where it is now would dramatically effect its prospects for the future," explains NPS Archeologist Dave Conlin. "And it would radically increase its corrosion and decay rate. So we weren't convinced it was in the best interests of that particular resource to bring it up."

Even without NPS protection, this site is out of reach for amateur divers. The members of the NPS Submerged Cultural Resources Unit use advanced "rebreathers" instead of standard dive tanks. And have to have a recompression chamber on hand just in case--heaven forbid--someone was to get the bends.

"There's a kind of a gurney in there with handles and a pull rope." says NPS Photographer Brett Seymour. "You'd slide the person in. Put the two ends in. Get a seal and recompress."

From there, the chamber is airlifted to Las Vegas. Luckily, it's never been used. But clearly, visiting the B-29 isn't for everyone.

"The depth here is not that deep for a technical dive," according to Seymour. "But what we're looking at is the conditions. The darkness, the silt. You know, there's a lot of things going on here that make this a challenging dive."

For those who are part of the team, it's a special experience.

"Well you know the whole thing is the sense of history you get. Being able to see what's down there," smiles Diving Consultant Jeff Bozanic, as he emerges from the water.

The National Park Service is now planning to open the restricted waters to qualified divers. For others, it will be video feeds, informational packets and lectures, delivered to schools and the general public.

"We have a dual mandate," says Conlin. "One is to provide recreational opportunities for the American public, but also to preserve cultural and historical resources for future generations. And so striking a balance between that is a difficult thing."

NPS officials haven't yet set a firm date on when the plane will be reopened to technical divers. For now, there is a fine for diving in the area...or even docking your boat there.

Photography by Brett Seymour, National Park Service


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Civil War submarines, World War II bomber remain elusive prey


The Shreveport Times
By John Andrew Prime
March 01, 2006

Civil War submarines known to once be in Shreveport but unseen since that conflict continue to elude searchers.

"The submarines look like they will stay an enigma for a while," said Ralph Wilbanks, the diver who led underwater efforts that found the Confederate submersible Hunley off Charleston Harbor in 1995. "We have looked in the bayou and we didn't see anything we didn't see last time."

Wilbanks, together with fellow Hunley discoverer Harry Pecorelli III and diver Darrell Taylor, has spent the last week in Shreveport, dragging side-scan sonars and magnetometers in countless lanes on mapped grids on the Red River, Cross Bayou and Cross Lake, looking for nagging mysteries from the Civil War to World War II. They may wind up their dives today.

As with Wilbanks' first visit to Shreveport in 1999, the current survey was underwritten by best-selling author Clive Cussler and his nonprofit, volunteer National Underwater and Marine Agency. Cussler said his decision to send Wilbanks and his crew back to Shreveport was based on "new data where the river changed course ... Apparently nothing was found again."

Wilbanks thinks the submarines were abandoned and salvaged after the Civil War.

"I think it's reasonable to think they may have just melted (them) back down and made steel out of (them)," he said.

Wilbanks and his crew also made scanning runs over the site of the suspected grave of the Civil War warship Grand Duke, out in the middle of Red River just north of Cross Bayou.

They got some hits there. That was where Pecorelli dove Tuesday. Results were inconclusive, with the sources of strong magnetometer readings under tree stumps and driftwood.

"There are some targets in the river and some very strong targets on the Bossier side," said Shreveport cartographer and historian Gary Joiner, whose Blanchard Place office has been the divers' nerve center this visit. "Some of the targets in the river are currently protruding above the channel floor a few feet. The Bossier side is currently very shallow in this area and we could not get the instruments near it."

While here, Wilbanks decided to spend a few days scanning Cross Lake to try to find a World War II B-26 bomber long rumored to have belly-landed and sunk into the muck.

"We decided, since we were coming all the way out here, we'd look for this plane, too," Wilbanks said.

While the Red River work took up most of Thursday and Tuesday, Sunday and Monday were spent running scores of tracks up and down the lake, searching but not finding.

"Finding what you're looking for, that's the most exciting part," said Pecorelli. He's worked with Wilbanks since the mid-1990s.

"Most of the time you find out where things aren't," Wilbanks said. "You very seldom find where things are. The other thing is, you either find it in the first lane or the last lane."

Precedent has shown that these historic treasures do exist and are just waiting to be found.

Several decades ago, a fisherman on the Red River noticed something sticking out of a crumbling bluff. It turned out to be a dugout canoe, several millennia old, and one of the area's richest historical finds.

Known wrecks of Civil War-era vessels include the transport Kentucky, just south of LSU-Shreveport, and the Union ironclad Eastport, near Montgomery.

Friday morning was spent crunching Thursday's data.

Wilbanks and Pecorelli gazed intently at sonar runs through the day, pieced pictures together to present a full view of the targeted river and bayou areas, and correlated these to the magnetometer survey results. At one point the team used seven computers and a plotter to examine the data. The afternoon was spent visiting people and places that might be helpful in the search, including the Cross Lake Patrol, Lowe-McFarlane American Legion Post 14 on the lake, and conferring with Shreveport police Sgt. Mike Day, who once worked with the SPD dive team and knew a B-26 pilot who remembered the bomber.

"Monday, we went back out on the lake and looked at a couple of other areas for the plane," Wilbanks said Tuesday. "We found some cable and potentially an old house site. We surveyed all the areas around Squirrel Point, the area most associated with the airplane, and found nothing."

Monday, Joiner learned from fellow historian Eric Brock that a photograph in a local archive shows the plane silhouetted in the lake. Joiner plans to search for the photo today, and if found, the divers may return to the lake. Otherwise, they'll head back to South Carolina.

Tuesday, Wilbanks said, "we went back to the Red River and dived on three sonar targets. They were like log jams. So we did a little more magnetometer work and sonar work and ruled those out."

Even though the survey didn't turn up the subs or the airplane, it has increased the store of knowledge of the Red River and its tributaries.

For years, Joiner has thought the submarines might have been scuttled in an area near the old Battery Walker, which is now under dry land at what Bossier City calls Cane's Landing. Using ground-penetrating radar might be the next step here, he said, but that area was used as a dump for many years, and items from the intervening 14 decades would shield the Civil War material from detection.

These searches are tremendously important in terms of adding to the store of history, Joiner said.

"We are practicing forensic history. We are using the best technology available today in this research. We are working with some of the best known researchers in the world ... . Shreveport is, at this time, one of the focal points for this advanced research because it was important during the Civil War and the research and development then might exist today. If found, these artifacts will be profoundly important for scholars."

Related link: Visit Clive Cussler's underwater search site, http://www.numa.net/.