So, There I was.....* At the top of my game, flying F-15s in Okinawa Japan. We're in the process of working up for another deployment to Cope Thunder. Kadena AB had the only 3 PACAF air superiority squadrons, so we went to Cope Thunder. A lot. Which was good, because it was excellent flying and we flew against and with some of the best fighter pilots in the world. Not THE best, mind you, cause that was us! But...Some of the best.
In any case, we're in the midst of the workups but it's Friday and flying is done, so we're in the squadron bar (yes, they had them back in the good old days. That's where the REAL debriefs occurred.) We're sipping a cold one, or three, and discussing the upcoming deployment. One of the guys mentions that since the mid deployment weekend is a long one for some federal holiday or the other, he's going to go scuba diving. He's got a tour guide scoped out who insists he knows where a WWII Japanese aircraft wreckage site is.
|This is not THE wreck. It's a Mitsubishi G4M1 ("Betty") bomber wreck in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia|
That piques everyone's interest.
However, there's a small problem. Not everyone is scuba certified, including me. It was difficult to do without some time off as the probability of getting the "bends" is increased if you fly within a day or two of going diving. Getting the bends while flying a single seat fighter a couple of hundred miles out over the Pacific Ocean might be...problematic. So to get certified, you either had to take some leave, or only take the lessons on long weekends.
Another guy in the squadron, let's call him Jim, is also interested in seeing the wreck and is similarly lacking in certification. But, he knows "somebody". This somebody can certify us (5 dives) in a weekend. All we have to do is get off the flying schedule on Monday. Since he is the squadron scheduler, that's not an issue. "Juvat, you'll be the SOF on Monday and then Top 3. I'll be writing the schedule anyway so won't be on it." "Yippee! I get to sit around pondering my navel, while completely responsible for any flying related problems. How good it that?"
You want to see the wreck doncha?
So, it's Saturday morning and we're introduced to our dive instructor, let's call him Norman (for a reason). Turns out Norman is a DOD Civilian working at Yontan Army Base. He listens to Radios.
Norman doesn't look like most other DOD civilians in the late 80s. Hair in a pony tail, with an earring in one ear. One might think "odd duck" when sighting him.
But, he's going to certify us for scuba diving by afternoon the next day, so why don't we get started. We've met Norman at the sea wall, just south of Kadena's runways. This area, for history buffs (Sarge?) is where the Okinawa invasion took place. In fact, Yontan, where Norman listens to Radios was the first airfield captured and was where Bock's Car made an emergency fuel landing after rescheduling sunrise at Nagasaki.
|Top Elipse is Yontan, Lower one is where we had our first lesson.|
What made it good for invasion also makes it good for scuba, deep water, not very far from shore.
I should mention Jim and my attire for our little training session. One might think we'd be all decked out in wet suits and stuff like that.
|For a multitude of reasons, we didn't look this good.|
|Looked much more like this (at least in my mind anyhow)|
The only difference between us and Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, is we're wearing our flight suits. Jellyfish don't you know. Bad ones!
Hey! We wear them at least once a year for water survival refresher training, why not for scuba certification. Well....More to follow.
We're ready for our first dive, so we get all our gear on and head out into the water. Burn through the air in the tanks doing a bunch of emergency procedures. Not much of interest or fun. Drank quite a bit of sea water as I recall.
Head back to shore and Norman debriefs us on how we did. I believe that consisted of "You guys did just fine, except for that drinking sea water stuff, might want to avoid that." Really? I believe that's called ...drowning.
Saddle back up with new tanks and head back out. This time we go further out into the sea, beyond the beach dropoff, but not quite as far as the dropoff to the South China Sea. So, the water's maybe 30-50 feet deep. Visibilities good, and we can see a lot of stuff on the bottom. Norman had told us that it wasn't unusual to see strange things on the bottom as the locals used it to dump off unwanted things, Refrigerators, cars, bicycles etc. The island is crowded, space is at a premium, so a landfill is not really an option.
Norman also told us that if we've still got air in the tanks after we finish the drills, we'll swim around and look for "stuff".
We dive and begin our drills, the South China Sea level drops an inch or so due to sea water consumption by the two of us, but we finish and still have air left. Norman taps his dive knife on his tank to get our attention and gestures that we're going for a look around.
We swim around a bit and spot an old stove, a bunch of tires, nothing really of interest.
Suddenly, Norman stops and points down below. There propped against a rock is what I think is a concrete drainage pipe.
Norman has said he'd interested in seeing Lobsters. Harvesting them while scuba diving being illegal, I'm thinking he's spotted a lobster near this pipe and wants to take a look.
We swim down closer. The pipe appears to be about 8" in diameter and has a flange on the end it's resting on. It's quite encrusted with sea life and the residue there of. I can't see any opening in the top end due to the encrustation. I start swimming in search of the lobster that I think Norman has spotted.
Jim and Norman are looking closely at the drainage pipe. I'm a bit puzzled, but hey, different strokes.
Pretty soon, I hear hammering noises and I turn around. Norman has his dive knife out and is banging on the encrustation on the top end of the pipe. He goes after it for a few minutes and suddenly a large chunk falls off.
Revealing an Ogival end to the drain pipe.
Drain pipes don't have Ogival ends.
Naval Rounds do.
|Ogive means the curved but pointed business end of the shell.|
I'm wasn't sure what the underwater blast radius of an 8" Naval Round was, but Michael Phelps would have had a hard time keeping up with me swimming back to shore.
|You don't want to be anywhere near.|
Debrief on that swim was quite a bit more colorful and pointed in a different direction.
I believe I heard "It hasn't gone off in 40 years why would it go off now?"
|Rust and deterioration might be a reason.|
Oh good Lord!
Our next dive is scheduled for after lunch and will be on the Pacific side of the island. Good news, bad news, it gets very deep, very fast over there. E.G. Mariannas trench deep. That's the bad news. Good News. Any unexploded ordnance will be well out of reach.
We tell Norman, no more dumb stuff. Just get us through the next three dives.
Lunch over (it seemed very salty for some reason), we meet up with Norman on the other side of the island.
Two things are noticeably different. First, it's the Pacific Ocean. The waves haven't seen land since Hawaii. They're anxious to make it ashore. Second, the water is significantly colder. Our flight suits don't do much to keep us warm.
As we talk about what we're going to do, we notice Norman is now carrying a spear gun. When asked why, he mentions there are sharks on this side of the island. For some reason, that Duh, Duh sound from Jaws starts playing in my mind.
We hit the water and are doing our drills, when suddenly Norman excitedly taps on his tank and points to the bottom. I see a lobster walking on the bottom. As Norman starts swimming towards it, the lobster accelerates towards a small hole in the coral, eluding Norman's grasp by a few inches.
As he looks into the hole, he realizes that it's a tunnel, not a cave. If he reaches in to it, the lobster will exit the other side, so he motions for Jim to go over to the othe side and "lock the back door".
Jim does so, by putting his flipper across it.
Meanwhile, Norman is poking around the front door with his spear gun. I'm thinking he's trying to hook the lobster and pull him out.
Off goes the spear into the hole, through the hole, missing the lobster and, without slowing down, through the webbing of Jim's flipper where it stops, missing his foot by inches.
I look over the top of the coral, half afraid that I'm going to see Jaws and his friends swimming down a blood trail towards dinner. Instead I'm treated to the dinner plate sized whites of Jim's eyes.
He takes off the flipper and shows me the spear and points towards the surface. I nod enthusiastically.
Back on shore, Jim's got Norman by the scruff of his neck and giving him an earful. Norman is sounding a lot like a poorly tuned motor boat (but..but..but..).
We decide that we're done with Scuba by Norman and we'll see a Japanese wreck another time.
Later on, we run into the guy organizing the tour and he asks how the lessons went and were we in on the tour. We related our horror stories and he goes "No! you did not get him! He goes by Norman, as in Norman Bates from Psycho. That man's bat sh!7 crazy!"
|Are you coming back for Dive 4, Juvat?|