Marine Corps Base Hawaii --
A small group of divers teamed up with the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department to observe and document historic landmarks beneath the waves off of Pyramid Rock Beach aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Aug. 22, 2014.
The four-man group consisted of George Huss, a recent Maritime Archeology Surveying Techniques School graduate, Hans Van Tilburg, the maritime heritage coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and two members with the Marine Option Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who support MAST.
The Team’s objective was to pinpoint the location of two submerged military vehicles in Kaneohe Bay: a plane and amphibious vehicle. They were conducting reconnaissance on the sites to see if they were suitable for further MAST programs to be conducted.
Stories surrounding the identity and cause of the sunken amphibious vehicle are murky, but the Environmental Dept. and Van Tilburg believe it to be a Vietnam-era landing vehicle, tracked, personnel carrier 5. The other submerged aircraft is believed to be a World War II-era P-40 Warhawk.
No official documentation from the base about the P-40 mishap exists, however, June Cleghorn, the senior cultural resources manager, spoke with a man claiming to be the maintenance officer piloting the P-40 when it crashed off Pyramid Rock. His name is Telford Koon and he was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Corps.
According to Koon, he was on a routine maintenance flight after repairs had been made to the plane’s engine. When the engine gave out moments after take off, he had to think quickly. He attempted to bring the aircraft around to land, but fell short of the runway. He claims to have survived the crash by “bellying” the plane in the shallow water and escaping before it sank.
The Aug. 22 sea conditions precluded the team from observing the downed P-40, but they were able to document and photograph the alleged LVTP-5.
Notes from the Environmental Dept. and eyewitness accounts say the sunken amphibious assault vehicle went under during a massive demonstration for the Secretary of the Navy at the time. It’s speculative though, as there’s no official documentation of the mishap.
“You can read the story of military training in Hawaii both in the air, on the beaches and on the water by diving around (the) Hawaiian Islands and looking at the ships, submarines and aircraft,” said Van Tilburg in an upcoming cultural resources webisode, produced by the Environmental Dept. “More of (those vehicles) are being discovered every year.”
Van Tilburg also spoke of federal laws established to protect historical sites like those off Pyramid Rock Beach.
"There are preservation laws that do protect historic properties underwater,” said Van Tilburg. “Particularly, federal properties underwater like landing craft and aircraft.”
He explained further that beyond the rules, some of these sites are the tombs of fallen servicemen, and that special care and respect should be taken when observing these vehicles. He said to “look, don’t touch.”
Coral Rasmussen, a cultural resources manager at the Environmental Dept., echoed the same stance about preserving and cataloging sunken military equipment.
She said the underwater sites have been largely overlooked in the mission to document cultural resources around the base. Traditionally, the efforts to do so haven’t happened because the sites are “out of sight, out of mind.”
“I’ve been talking with Hans quite a bit,” Rasmussen said. “He’s been working with MAST (who have) been documenting Vietnam-era amphibious landing craft. During that process, he realized that we have some of them here.”
Rasmussen then reflected on the relevance of keeping sites like the P-40 and LVTP-5 around.
“When you study the past, it helps tell you about the future,” Rasmussen said.” It tells us sort of who we are and maybe what direction we’re going (by allowing) us to look at trends in culture and lifestyles of those before us.”