Explore the Underwater Corsair Plane Wreck

Hawai’i is known for its vibrant land and heavenly blue waters. The Pacific islands possess a strength, a stoic silence that you can feel all the way from the coast of California. The island of O’ahu is home to several different military facilities like Hickam Air Force Base and Pearl Harbor Naval Base.

Man and Machine

Even after World War II, O’ahu continued to be a military stronghold for the U.S. Despite the announcement of reducing air force strength in Hawai`i, U.S. planes provided supplies to Berlin, which was fighting against the USSR.

In 1948, Lieutenant William Holden took up the Vought F4U Corsair on a routine run. The American-made fighter plane was meant for carrying a payload or other cargo while acting as a bomber. But the Corsair planes were also known for having landing problems and were replaced by Grumman F6F Hellcat, though powered by the same Corsair engine.

When flying from Molokai Field, the Corsair began experiencing engine failure. Lieutenant Holden, the pilot, landed the fighter plane in the only space available: O’ahu’s ocean. And it wasn’t the only well-known crash of the year.

A heavily loaded Superfortress, a Boeing B-29, crashed and exploded in Hickam Field, killing 16 of the 20 crew members. Thankfully, Lieutenant Holden was retrieved from his water landing and found swimming safely nearby. Meanwhile, waves swallowed the Corsair.

No one could ever retrieve the plane wreck, and it remains underwater today. Occasionally aircraft can be deliberately sunk to create reefs. So with the Corsair’s plane wreck just 15 minutes from Honolulu’s shore, the fighter continues to serve the diving community.

A Perfect Playground

The Artificial Reef Society (ARS) deemed the wreckage a safe and necessary location for oceanic fauna to flourish. Coral reefs also protect coastlines from erosion and tropical storms. The ARS helps find homes for planes where sealife is dwindling and gives the population a chance to create self-sustaining ecosystems. Reefs are created from coral larvae attaching to submerged rocks or other hard surfaces, making the underwater Corsair plane a perfect playground.

Coral reefs only grow about a centimeter each year. That’s about the length of a staple. Even though the Corsair plane went down more than 70 years ago, it’s a reef barely out of its coral diapers. Right now, only professional divers have permission to visit. But tourists can charter a boat out to the location and view the plane wreck blooming with wildlife.

Ending at the Beginning

The Corsair plane isn’t the only thing that aged gracefully. If Lieutenant Holden’s name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve seen him on the silver screen. William returned to Hollywood and starred in many films, even securing himself an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Pictures. Lieutenant Holden returned to the Pacific upon his death, where his ashes were scattered in the waves to be reunited with the underwater Corsair wreckage.

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