July 28, 2000
Mark S. Miller, Shipwreck Historian
Our goal today was to locate and photograph some of the many aircraft that lie abandoned on the bottom of Kwajalein Lagoon, near Mellu Island, just south of Roi-Namur. Members of the Roi-Namur Dolphins Scuba Club had located and placed a buoy on a B-25 "Billy Mitchell" bomber. Using this as a starting point, we were planning to explore a larger area that I had previously documented as containing a number of other planes.
Jonathan and Tom were first up, and descended to film the bomber. Gator and I dropped over the side of the boat, switched on our gasses, and started down to the bottom nearly 120 feet below. The water was clear enough to see the bomber from the surface. We took a heading away from the tail of the bomber, and soon found the final resting-place of an Avenger torpedo bomber, wings still folded, upside down on the sand. Swimming beneath the starboard wing, I could peer into the intact cockpit and observe the controls and instruments. This aircraft like most of the others in this graveyard had been stripped of useful items and disposed of once it's operational life was over. Still, very few examples of WWII naval aircraft exist, and it is a real treat for us to be able to document these slowly decaying birds of war.
Leaving the torpedo bomber, we next found an SBD Dauntless fighter-bomber upright on the bottom with its wings still attached, looking much as it had when sitting on the runway at Roi-Namur. The engine had been removed, and a three bladed propeller sits in the cockpit. The windshield is still intact, although covered in sponges and corals. The control surfaces have decayed, but the aluminum of the fuselage and wings look almost as if new. Knowing that even with the Drager rebreathers extended bottom time we still had a long way to swim, we reluctantly left the aircraft and swam until we came across a C-46 transport plane. Like some of the other planes, she sits upright, minus her wings and engines. A large fan coral hangs from beneath the nose of the plane, looking somewhat like a beard. I quietly peeked into the forward lower cargo door, and spied what must have been one of the largest peacock groupers I have ever seen. What a set of dentures! The cockpit door was too narrow to enter, but the rear loading door seemed as large as a garage, and I gingerly examined the interior. Looking back out through a porthole, I saw a good-sized shark cruise slowly by.
Since by now Jonathan and Tom were through filming the B-25, we next headed there to take our turn in exploring it. The ball turret on the top of the aircraft is missing, as are the twin .50 caliber machine guns once mounted there, and slowly dropping down feet first, I was able to just poke my head inside the cockpit, where a steering wheel still lies fallen from its mount. In doing this, I disturbed many small fish that were schooling inside the bomber. When I moved back out of the plane several large jacks rocketed past my head, scooping up the tiny fish.
Our second dive turned up several more Dauntless fighter-bombers, and allowed us to return to the C-46, and the Avenger Torpedo bomber. What a day! Touring these historical aircraft is always a thrill for me, and our Draegers allowed us to spend a longer time, with more safety, than I have had in the past on conventional scuba.