Deep Blue Sea: Aircraft & Aircraft Carriers Lost Beneath the Waves

Vought Corsair wreck (image by mattk1979)

Vought Corsair wreck (image by mattk1979)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

The planet’s seabeds are a treasure trove of history, where the natural world mingles relatively undisturbed with man-made artifacts lost through the ages.  Shipwrecks naturally spring to mind when we ponder such places, but what about other objects that have found their way into the sea?  A complete aircraft is always a coveted find for divers.  Here are four of them, and one of the awesome ships that they once called home.

F4U Corsair, Hawii, United States

Horizontal stabilizers encrusted with marine life (image by mattk1979)

Horizontal stabilizers encrusted with marine life (image by mattk1979)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

Image by mattk1979

Image by mattk1979

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

The F4U Corsair was s a carrier-capable fighter plane which saw service during World War Two and the Korean War.  The pilot of this particular Corsair (above) was forced to ditch his aircraft after running out of fuel during a routine training in mission in 1946.  As you can tell from the state of the wreck, he made a pretty good job of it and reportedly even swam back to shore!  While the remainder looks like just a fuselage, the starboard wing can be seen buried by the sand.  And a little fact for the maritime history afficionados out there – this is the only wreck in the waters around Hawaii that was not sunk intentionally!

F-4 Phantom, Subic Bay, Philippines

F-4 Phantom wreck (image by Anders Poulsen)

F-4 Phantom wreck (image by Anders Poulsen)

Image by Anders Poulsen

Image by Anders Poulsen

Image by Anders Poulsen

Image by Anders Poulsen

Image by Anders Poulsen

Image by Anders Poulsen

In the cockpit!  (Image by Anders Poulsen)

In the cockpit! (Image by Anders Poulsen)

War and conflict, mechanical malfunction and the occasional artificial reef have all seen to it that the oceans are littered with aircraft wrecks.  But it’s not everyday that divers paddle across what is arguably the greatest warplane of all time.  Yet here, at the mouth of Subic Bay, is this decaying old F-4 Phantom, workhorse of numerous airforces for several decades.  After surfing the web, the identity of this particular F-4 remains elusive, but the state of the wreck does offer up some clues.

Firstly, it appears to have been stripped of all useful spares – both tail planes are missing, as is the nose cone and canopy frames.  Sure, there would have been some damage on impact, but it’s unlikely both tail planes would have been ripped off at the base, and that the entire canopy and windscreen framework would have gone.  It is also true that seven Phantom’s were destroyed in the tragic USS Forestal fire in 1967, and that the Forrestral made its way immediately to Subic, where it moored at Naval Air Station Cubi Point.

During the Vietnam War (when this aircraft would have been active), it was common place for ships to make room and improve efficiency by cannibalising surplus or damaged aircraft and then pushing the airframe into the sea.  Could this Phantom have been damaged in the fire aboard the USS Forrestal?  While clearly in better shape than many of the planes from that fateful day, it could nevertheless have been stripped for parts while the carrier steamed east to the Philippines, then pushed overboard at the mouth of Subic Bay?

(Thanks to Anders Poulsen for the F-4 Phantom images above.  Check out his website, Deep Blue, for more great marine images and information.)

The image below shows what the F-4 Phantom would have looked like soon before ending its days in Subic Bay (albeit it would have been liveried differently – the F-4 below is assigned to the U.S. Air Force, while the submerged example is a Navy variant).

Image by Jacobst

Image by Jacobst

P-38 Lightning, Solomon Islands

Image by mjwinoz

Image by mjwinoz

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Port engine (image by mjwinoz)

Port engine (image by mjwinoz)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

The P-38 Lightning, developed and built by Lockheed, was one of the most revolutionary fighter planes of its day.  Unfortunately the one above has been reduced to a heap of rusty metal, but makes a great scuba diving excursion.  Relatively shallow in just 30 feet of blue water and teeming with marine life, this old Pacific Theater veteran is essentially intact and will no doubt provide a fascinating historic venue for divers of multiple abilities.

Aichi E13A “Jake” Seaplane, Republic of Palau

Image by LuxTonnerre

Image by LuxTonnerre

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Image by LuxTonnerre

Image by LuxTonnerre

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

It wasn’t just American planes that found their way to the bottom of the Pacific during the Second World War.  This Aichi E13A of the Japanese Navy, better known as the “Jake Seaplane”, looks almost ghostly in the hazy blue water.  The island nation of Palau was the scene of intense fighting in 1944, culminating in an Allied victory with both sides paying a heavy price.  The wreck is in relatively good condition, resting in shallow water at a slight angle with one of its floats still clearly visible.  Close to the Meyuns seaplane ramp, is it thought to be one of the most intact aircraft wrecks in Mirconesia.

Artifical Reef – USS Oriskany

The "Mighty O" just minutes before slipping beneath the waves (image by Jeffrey P. Kraus)

The "Mighty O" just minutes before slipping beneath the waves (image by Jeffrey P. Kraus)

Image via U.S. Navy

Image via U.S. Navy

On the bridge, two years after sinking (image by Gareth Richards)

On the bridge, two years after sinking (image by Gareth Richards)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Superstructure (image by Gareth Richards)

Superstructure (image by Gareth Richards)

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

We’ve mentioned naval aircraft, but what about the awesome ships that served as their home base for months at a time?  The unique images above show the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany – more specifically, they show what happens when you rig a 904 foot long ship with high explosives to sink it as an artificial reef!  After 25 years of service, including in Korea and Vietnam, the “Mighty O” was decommissioned in 1976, beginning a long retirement which would see her stripped of all useful parts over the next 30 years.  Finally, on May 17, 2006, the rusting hulk of the Oriskany was towed a short distance from Pensacola, Florida, and sunk.  500lbs of C-4 was detonated, and the old carrier slipped beneath the waves 37 minutes later.  Since then, the Times called the Oriskany one of the top 10 wreck diving sites in the world.

Related Links
10 Amazing “Above-Water” Shipwrecks
Aircraft Disposal: From State of the Art to Heap of Scrap
Abandoned Migs: Former Soviet Hardware from Iraq to Russia
Abandoned Aircraft From Across the World
Ghostly Boeing 747 Captured on Google Earth
Six Lost American Air Bases in Britain

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