WWII Plane In New Images Likely Downed In Pearl Harbor Attack’s Opening Minutes

A vestige of the “Day of Infamy” has been resting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean since the day of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Today, maritime archaeologists revealed the crashed plane to the world with new video and images of its watery grave.

The archaeologists who documented the plane aren’t sure exactly which one it is, but they are certain it’s a Catalina PBY-5. Twenty-seven of these “flying boats” were destroyed on the day of the bombing on Pearl Harbor; all were on the ground or moored at the U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu at Kāne‛ohe Bay, Fox News reported. Six more were damaged.

The Japanese Imperial Navy bombed this naval base just minutes before the Pear Harbor attack, which resulted in the deaths of 2,000 U.S. Navy sailors and the destruction of dozens of ships and planes, United Press International added.

The events at Pearl Harbor instigated the United States to enter World War II.

The man who helped take these new images of the Pearl Harbor seaplane, maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said the crew may have died while the attempt to fly away from the base as the Japanese attacked.


“The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack,” Van Tilburg said. “The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7.”

Today, the plane is in three large pieces, resting 30 feet into the ocean’s depths.

Archaeologists have tried to document the Pearl Harbor plane wreck before. Back in 1994, a University of Hawaii dive team plunged into Kāne‛ohe Bay’s murky waters but their attempts at discovery were thwarted by conditions. Then, 14 years later, another dive team — this one a local sport diving group called Hawaii Underwater Explorers — tried again but didn’t bring back any significant images of the plane.

The third time was the charm. The University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program gave it a shot in June. With better visibility and better cameras, a team of students dove down the plane wreck and were able to perform a detailed survey.

According to the NOAA, this program is the only one in the Pacific that offers training in archaeological surveying to undergraduates. The survey course teaches these upcoming scientists “how to document significant but little-known World War II historic artifacts and other types of submerged sites.”


The images and footage of the plane these students brought back to the surface are a stunning and bittersweet testament to the horror of that day and illuminates a piece of history behind the Pearl Harbor attack.

“This sunken flying boat is a window into the events of the attack, a moment in time that reshaped the Pacific region,” said June Cleghorn, senior archaeologist at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. “Understanding this site sheds light on the mystery of the lost PBYs and honors the legacy of the Navy and Marine Corps Base in Hawaii.”

Among the images and video, they also recorded measurements built a survey map of the plane wreckage.

NOAA called the loss of 27 Consolidated PBY Catalina planes as a significant on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. They were widely used during World War II for anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, night raids, cargo transport, and long-range patrol bombers.

If the fleet hadn’t decimated, the seaplanes could’ve followed the Japanese planes back to their carriers.

The wreckage is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004.

[Photo By Keystone/Getty Images]