Intro / Background
I first read about the Grumman Goose at Catalina in an on-line article by Joe Dovala. It has been on my “hit list” ever since. I finally got a chance to dive it this past week. I have to admit, I think even with the increases in technology, Joe got better pictures back when he dove it (date unknown but sometime in 2010). He conducted three dives on the wreck to get the right conditions, light, etc.
However, he got the aircraft ID wrong (more on that in a bit). But, that isn’t hard since there are at least 5 documented G-21 Grumman Goose crashes off Catalina and a few Grumman G-73 Mallards as well.
I’ve been asked to not reveal the exact depth so I will just say that you should have a MOD3/Hypoxic Cert and be comfortable with extended deco obligations to dive it since it is beyond the 60m/200ft range.
The Grumman Goose
The Grumman Goose is a flying seaplane. It was originally designed as an eight seat commuter plane in the New York area. Quite honestly, it is what I would personally consider an “ugly” airplane:
This image is important because it will really help identify parts of the wreck when we get to the photos.
Keep in mind that propellers are high on the wings to be out of the water on takeoff and landing. The craft has retractable wheels and pontoons. It also has a “bow” like structure. We’ll get to all of those in this article.
The Goose was a great plane for people to get to Catalina. But, as mentioned, there were a large number of crashes and eventually they stopped service and now people get to Catalina via boat or helicopter.
They built a “dock” for seaplanes east of Avalon at Pebbly Beach. The picture below is from catalinagoose.com and is of N11CS, serial number 1166 and the photo is taken by Chris Bell. Note that red stripes on the tail.
As mentioned, the wreck lies in reasonably deep water. When Jospeh Dovala wrote the article in Advanced Diver Magazine, he said that it was from the crash on September 17, 1979 (tail number N22932 / serial B-139). However, according to multiple web sites, that specific aircraft was salvaged and then sold to PenAir in Alaska. It then had yet another crash in April 2004 in Alaska!
I discovered that Ray had done the same research I just did and concluded that the wreck is actually from April 14, 1979 and involved the N11CS pictured above. There was “marginal weather conditions with low clouds and fog” that day and the flight originated from San Pedro and was about to land when the pilot noticed boat wakes. The pilot, Richard Lord of Long Beach, decided to initiate a go-around and the seaplane stalled, lost height and crashed into the ocean. Witnesses said that the left pontoon hit the water which flipped it around.
An 81-year-old woman passenger, Ruth Gardner of Lomita, “seemed to freeze” and was killed. Seven passengers had minor injuries, and two passengers and the pilot had serious injuries. There is a LA Times newspaper article from the September crash that mentions it sank in 100 feet of water. As far as we know, the article is incorrect and the Goose that we dove was that one. However, I don’t believe a 100% positive identification has been made.
The wreck is in two pieces. There is a “bow section” about 50 feet away from the main section of the wreck. The bow is clearly the underside of the front part of the plane that you can see in the photo above. The main area includes both engines and propellers with the pistons visible. The fuselage is “folded over” on itself and you can still see the red paint stripes on one side. Part of one of the wings is buried in sand but visible.
As Joseph mentioned in his article, the wreck is a bit hard to photograph. This is due to the lack of, as Dovala puts it, “aircrafty” parts. The props are really nice. There is also a lack of ambient light at these depths along with the standard backscatter issues in this part of the Pacific Ocean for wide angle. If I were to go back, I would probably sacrifice ISO to get some possibly grainy pictures but avoid the black background effect by using artificial light in a deep wreck.
DJ took some video of me with the 2 x Big Blue 15k lumen lights and those don’t suffer the backscatter issues so I’ve included some screen grabs from his video as well.
This is the piece of the wreck site that is about 50 feet away from the main site. You can clearly see that it is the front, bottom section of the plane — but upside down.
Both propellers and engines are still intact. They are very picturesque in my opinion.
The fuselage is a bit of a “mess” and it folded over on itself. You can clearly see the landing gears and other features along with the paint colors.
DJ Mansfield Movies
Below is a still capture from one of DJ’s movies that he took along with a couple short clips.
As mentioned, there are at least 5 Goose aircraft that have crashed around Catalina. I know for sure there is one other that is at a “diveable” depth (less than 100m) that I hope to visit, document, and possibly identify.
I believe that there might be one or two that have yet to be located or dove.
If I do go back to this site, I’d like to build a photogrammetry model of the wreck site. I think given the height of the fuselage and the propellers, etc. that it would make a good subject. Of course, it would require quite a bit of time on the wreck and corresponding deco given the depths involved.
Advanced Diver Magazine Article by Joe Dovala
Catalina Goose website
Aviation Safety – N11CS Goose crash on 14 Apr 1979
BAA – N11CS Goose crash on 14 Apr 1979
Aviation Safety – N22932 crash on 17 Sep 1979
Aviation Safety – N22932 crash in Alaska on 4 Apr 2004
Islapedia article on Catalina Airplane crashes
Wayback Machine – Archive of article on UB88.org site which has since been removed
There was also an article by DAN’s Alert Diver Magazine but I can no longer find it online
A big thanks to Ray, Kyaa, and Tayler at Sundiver International for taking us to this amazing dive site and nailing the location of the down line. I’m looking forward to our other dives on Catalina in search of other Goose aircraft wrecks!