On December 7, 1941, just minutes before they began to drop bombs on Pearl Harbor, Japanese airplanes destroyed 27 seaplanes moored off the coast of the U.S. Naval Air Station in Oahu. The evidence left behind from one of these planes has been eluding researchers for more than two decades.
This summer, archaeologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the University of Hawaii teamed up on a dive to examine the wrecked plane, a PBY-5 Catalina. Downed in the first few minutes of the attack, which occurred 74 years ago this Monday, the PBY-5 Catalina was one of the Navy’s most integral "flying boats," a seaplane that patrolled for enemy aircrafts and ships.
University of Hawaii researchers first attempted to photograph this particular plane in 1994, but couldn’t get a clear view in the murky water of the Kāne‛ohe Bay. In 2008, a group of recreational divers attempted again but had no better luck.
In June, students from the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program were finally able to do a systematic archaeological survey of the site, 30 feet below the surface. The team took the first comprehensive photo and video recordings of the entire wreck so far. It’s now in three pieces, and while the researchers can’t identify which exact plane it was, it might have been shot down while its crew attempted to take off to combat the attack.
See what the wreckage looks like these days in the photos below.
The plane's wing:
The interior mechanic's compartment:
The cockpit, revealing wheel and throttle controls:
The gunner's forward turret (the plane is resting on its right side):
A tear in the port hull:
The engine housing, or nacelle:
Parts of the tail section, which lies near the tip of the right wing:
The cockpit is on the upper right in this image:
This is how the wreckage is laid out on the ocean floor:
Unless otherwise noted, all images by UH Marine Option Program, courtesy NOAA