4 Notable Aircraft Dive Sites

Jake Seaplane Palau Photograph by Arhune

Sunken aircraft might not be the first thing to pop into your mind when someone mentions diving a wreck. Around the world, there are thousands of dive sites that were once, ships. The UNESCO believes that since the early days of man over three million ships have been lost to the sea. Man taking to the air is a recent event in history. Still, in the last hundred years, thousands of aircraft have been lost in the sea. Some of these aircraft were lost by war, others by accidents and a few by design. Many have never been found, but a number of them have. Often these finds become dive sites. Here are a few popular dive sites that are aircraft.

Jake Seaplane – Palau

This may be the most photographed aircraft dive site in the world. The aircraft is mostly intact sitting in just 14 meters of water just off shore from where a Japanese WWII seaplane base was located. The Aichi E13A (Allied reporting name: “Jake”) was a long-range reconnaissance seaplane used by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) from 1941 to 1945. Numerically the most important floatplane of the IJN, it could carry a crew of three and a bomb load of 250 kg (550 lb). The Navy designation was “Navy Type Zero Reconnaissance Seaplane”

This aircraft seems to have crashed on landing. The engine has fallen off the plane, however, the condition of the props indicate that they were not under power when the plane hit the water. One pontoon is detached and located a short distance from the aircraft.

Visibility around the wreck is excellent and it can be seen from the surface. The aircraft was originally brought to a divers attention by a fisherman who saw it from the surface. There is a good coral covering over the wreck and it is still mostly intact. Divers do need to be careful of the ammunition in and around the wreck. Being underwater for so many years it has become unstable and could be very deadly if mishandled.

An AD-5 Skyraider at Subic Bay

AD-5 Skyraider – Subic Bay Philippines

Sitting in an upright position in 38 meters of water is possibly the only AD-5 Skyraider dive site in the world. The Skyraider series grew out of the US Navy’s need for an attack bomber towards the end of WWII. The first Douglas “AD-1 Skyraider” – with “AD” standing for “Attack / Douglas” – performed its initial flight on 5 November 1946, and was entered into service in 1947. The propeller-driven aircraft was a single seater and able to carry 3,630 kilograms (8,000 pounds) of weapons on its wings, there was also a 20-millimeter cannon and 200 rounds of ammunition in each wing. It was designed for carrier operation so the wings were able to fold. The Skyraider first saw military action during the Korean War. The Navy loved them but the Air Force considered them obsolete. The Vietnam War changed the Air Forces mind. The Skyraider could rapidly reach downed airman and provided close air support. They could also slow enough to escort and provide protection to rescue helicopters. The Skyraider also had the advantage of being able to stay aloft for ten hours. There were seven different generations of the Skyraider.

There were 3,180 Skyraiders produced of which only 670 were AD-5s. The Skyraider found at Subic Bay is an AD-5 version. The AD-5 differed from the other generations as it had a wider body and could have a crew of three or four. One version of the AD-5 was a night version called the AD-5N. Fifty-three of the AD-5N were converted to an Electronic Counter Measures version the AD-5Q. It had a crew of four, the pilot and Naval Flight Officer (NFO) sat up front and two enlist electronic counter measure specialist sat in the compartment behind them. On the 9th of January 1962, an AD-5 from the USS Lexington CV-16 departed Subic Bay to rejoin the aircraft carrier which left the Naval base in Subic the day before. The aircraft crashed into Subic Bay killing its crew. This is the aircraft believed to have been found.

The aircraft is fully intact except the engine is missing and canopies are gone. The dive site has a great coral growth and has attracted marine life. Subic Bay has a number of different aircraft that can be dived. Other aircraft include a Japanese Tabby ( DC-3), F4 Phantom, and sections of a Lockheed P-3 Orion. An AJ-2 Savage is a deep technical dive just outside of the bay.

(My disclaimer, this is my favorite aircraft dive site and I did most of the early research to identify the type of aircraft and its possible identification.)

Blackjack B17 – Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

She may be remote and she may be a little deep, but those that make the dive say it is well worth the effort. The aircraft is a B-17F bomber with the nickname “Blackjack” based on her serial number – 41-24521. The bomber is mostly intact including its guns and equipment sitting near a shallow reef in 50 meters of water.

Blackjack’s final flight was on July 10, 1943, when she left Port Moresby just before midnight on a mission to bomb the Japanese airfields at Rabaul in New Britain. On the return flight, bad weather and failing engines cause the crew to alter course. Running low on fuel, the pilot Lt. Ralph DeLoach decided to ditch the plane along a shallow reef near Boga Boga Papua New Guinea. Since the Co-pilot Joseph Moore had experience ditching a plane, he was given control of the aircraft. Moore ditched the plane perfectly, however, they went pass the edge of the reef. The aircraft remained afloat for less than a minute, but, that was long enough for the ten crew members to escape the aircraft. Nearby natives came out to the site and recovered the crew. A coastwatcher had seen the crash and notified search and recovery.

Over the decades the aircraft was largely forgotten. In 1986, David Pennefather was visiting the area where the aircraft crashed and was told of the crash by some local villagers. Later in the year he returned with other divers and found the aircraft. A metal tag on the radio equipment proved who she was.

There is a permanent shot line from the shallow reef down to the Blackjack which sits on a sandy bottom at 50 meters. The visibility is generally 40 meters and there is some current around the wreck especially around the nose. The wreck is in remarkable conditions considering the age and the fact that she was ditched. Due to the depth, penetration is not recommended, however, the cockpit is clearly visible from outside of the aircraft.

The Blackjack has been written about in diving magazines including an article in Niugini Blue. A documentary was made about the aircraft, including interviews with some of the surviving crew and underwater video.

Boeing 737 Aircraft Artificial Reef – Chemainus BC, Canada

The Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC) is a registered non-profit society based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Since 1991, the Artificial Reef Society has been very active creating artificial reefs and has sunk seven ships and one Boeing 737 in the waters off BC’s west coast. The Boeing 737 was sunk in 2006 in about 34 meters of water. Before being sunk the aircraft was prepped for diving by clearing all hazardous materials and adding additional access points. It was also placed on a tripod assembly keeping it about 3 meters off the bottom. The ARSBC has named the resulting artificial reef Xihuw. Xihuw (pronounced KEYquot) artificial reef is believed to be the first and currently only Boeing 737-200 aircraft that is a dive site. The aircraft sits so that the top of the tail is 18 meters. The rear passenger doors are at 25 meters and the front doors are at 22 meters.

The Heartbreak of War

Project Recover and Bent Prop Organization are two closely related organizations that are looking for the remains of airman missing in action from WWII. Their research has lead to finding a number of different aircraft. Just recently they announced the find of two B25 bombers.

“The  ‘Last Flight Home’ documents the story of Dr. Patrick Scannon’s work searching for and finding missing World War II aircraft and the MIAs associated with them in Palau. A ferocious battleground is nearly forgotten by history, yet more than 200 US aircraft went down on and around the islands. Almost half of those with the crew now listed as Missing In Action.

Add Your Favorite Aircraft Dive Site

This is not meant as a comprehensive “best of” list, but just an example of some outstanding aircraft dive sites. If you have a favorite aircraft dive, please add it to the comments and tell everyone about it.