On May 3, 1945, the engine of an American B24 bomber plane caught fire somewhere off the coast of the Togean Islands. Knowing the islands were covered with forests and rough terrain, the crew decided to ditch the plane in the water rather than parachute down to land. Bracing themselves for a crash water landing, they jettisoned everything they possibly could from the plane – ammunition, guns, all loose equipment that might cause injury and even the pilot and co-pilot’s windows. The plane hit the water, skidded about 50 yards and then came to a standstill.
The crew quickly escaped through the windows and jumped into life rafts they had salvaged from the water and inflated. Miraculously, all eleven crew members survived with only minor lacerations and bruises. They were rescued an hour and a half after ditching the plane, which eventually sank to the ocean floor.
Sixty-five years after that fateful day, the plane lies almost completely intact off Kadidiri Island in about 15-25 meters of water. Anna, Alexa and I had heard about this wreck during our first trip to the Togean Islands last month and returned this past weekend with the sole purpose of diving it.
We teamed up with five other divers to charter a boat out to the wreck site. Since it is farther away from the dive resort than the other sites, we had to pay a boat fee to cover the cost of the extra fuel. After locating the wreck with his GPS, our divemaster descended first to hook a safety sausage to the plane so we could follow a reference line in buddy teams. Visibility here was only 10-15 meters, which added a sense of mystery to the dive.
As long as we stayed in our buddy teams, we were free to explore the wreck at will. I relished the sense of freedom I felt swimming under and over the left wing and peering into windows with my flashlight. I followed my fancy and swam right up the plane from the tail to the cockpit, where I noticed a pair of lionfish hovering over the seats as if they had taken over the role of pilot and co-pilot. The rest of the wreck was alive with sponges, anemone, clownfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, trevally, coral cod and more. After spending a good 45 minutes exploring the wreck, we reluctantly bid it farewell and swam into shallower waters above the reef for our safety stop.
Anna, Alexa and I post dive - mission accomplished!