Back in October 2020, Tyler and I were diving on some unknown targets out of Dana Point on the Marissa (Lora had taken her on the proverbial “road trip”).
On one of those dives, we were excited to find a Corsair engine and landing gear. I spent a few extra minutes on the bottom taking more photos and, after my deco stops, I got back on the boat and Tyler said “it has already been found.” He had immediately recognized the engine and looked it up on the boat while I was on my deco. He started showing me pictures and it was obvious that it was the same plane.
We were still excited, but it was a bit muted because we were hoping to find something completely new. It turns out that Ray Artnz was the first person to dive the wreck back in the 2010 timeframe and then it was identified a short while later.
Fast forward 5 months and Tyler is researching for other potential airplane wrecks and he reads an article about a Corsair that had a mid-air collision with another Corsair in that same area. Tyler then starts to pull the proverbial string….
The dive team that originally found the wreck did a good job doing the detective work to positively identify the aircraft as a Corsair. It was a bit tricky since the type of engine (18 cylinder, radial) was used in multiple different types airplane and was very similar to another type of 18 cylinder radial engine.
The wreck is definitely a Corsair and they went on to research accidents to identify the specific plane and pilot involved in the crash. However, when they did their research a decade ago, they didn’t have the tools we now have. Also, since they did the initial research, some additional military documents have been declassified.
Their original identification was based on a military accident report that a Corsair had gone missing in the general area. The report itself indicates that the pilot likely “became disoriented” and “spun or flew into the water.” There were no witnesses and so the location of the accident is very vague. It also indicates that “Bad weather was again encountered near Laguna Beach, Calif & the flight attempted to reverse course a 2nd time” so it isn’t clear where that airplane actually crashed.
The wreck site that they found and the one that we subsequently dove in Oct 2020 is definitely south of the Laguna Beach / Dana Point location.
The reports that Tyler Stalter found indicate that a different Corsair “crashed into the ocean five miles south of Dana Point after a midair collision with another F4U.”
A newspaper article indicates that it “had crashed at sea three miles west of San Matoe (sic).”
Below is a map of the location of the wreck site and a 3 mile radius of San Mateo point:
Original Incident Report
Tyler was able to get a copy of the original incident report for the May 1944 Corsair crash.
There are two very relevant facts in the report.
(1) The location of the accident is noted at “3 mil W San Mateo Point” which aligns with the newspaper article and also confirms the location of where we found the wreck site.
(2) It also indicates that Lt. Brodie was involved in a “defensive combat tactic, which necessitated frequent violent turns” during the exercise. In one of those turns, he collided with another Corsair.
During the dive, we noted that the condition of the wreck was indicative of a hard impact with the water. Generally, if a pilot ditches an airplane, the fuselage is still relatively intact. However, a mid-air collision would result in the aircraft being broken apart which would explain why the wreck site is so fragmented.
At this point, we believe that the Corsair was originally mis-identified.
We cannot be 100% sure without some specific identification from the wreck site, but we now believe that the wreck that they originally dove in the 2010 timeframe and that we dove in Oct 2020 is the one piloted by S.E. Brodie (FG-1 #13701) and that crashed on 16 May 1944 and NOT the one piloted by Charles E. Butler which crashed on 10 Feb 1950. It is also a different variant of the Corsair (FG-1) which was made by Goodyear vs. the F4U which was manufactured by Vought.
This also would indicate that there is another Corsair that crashed somewhere in the general vicinity of Dana Point but which has yet to be located….
This post has largely been the result of the curiosity and detective work of Tyler Stalter.
I might be the author, but without his insatiable thirst for the truth, it would never have been known that the wreck was originally mis-identified. I can only hope that we someday find the original wreck they reported.