As mentioned in my previous post, Kona is not exactly a hotbed for wreck diving. However, if there is a wreck to be found, I will definitely go searching for it.
While on my second day of diving, I was talking about my passion for wreck diving and Hailey from Kona Dive Company had mentioned that she had heard about an airplane wreck near the Kona airport and that a local technical diver had been on it numerous times. It turns out that the local technical diver is Gerard Newman whom I had been introduced to a few years ago from another dive friend I used to work with, Rob Nagy.
I quickly dashed off an email to Gerard and asked him if he wanted to go dive on Saturday. He had a busy weekend planned and politely declined but was kind enough to give me the GPS coordinates and the backstory. There were no other divers signed up for my Saturday dive so I essentially had a private charter and guess where I wanted to go…
In addition to the location, Gerard also had some interesting history of this particular airplane. From his email:
The airplane wreck is an old Panoramic Airtours Beechcraft C-12 that crashed after takeoff in 1983. There were no fatalities with one near-miss whose seatbelt was stuck but was rescued by a fire fighter who happened to be fishing nearby. All the passengers were picked up.
Initially sitting in 25 FSW the wreck was clearly visible to air traffic at KOA. Not a good look, so Panoramic Airtours tried a salvage operation with a helicopter and cable, which, of course, went pear-shaped almost immediately. A local dive operator with some salvage experience (not sure who) got the Ok to float it with some lift bags and planned to relocate it to about 80FSW. That plan didn’t work out too well, either, and the aircraft’s final resting place is in about xxx FSW.Gerard Newman email
Gerard had also mentioned that “there isn’t much left of the wreck” but after some of the debris fields I have been diving in SoCal, I figured it was worth a shot.
Update : 31 Oct 2023
I was contacted by Bob Jensen who saw some of my Kona posts and mentioned that he had some old salvage photos! I requested them and he sent the photos below that show divers trying to float the plane and salvage it. The photos are from the Kona Coast Divers archive. Thanks Bob & Kona Coast Divers!
We got to the general location and did a quick assessment to make sure there wasn’t a raging current or horrible conditions. The depth was about right according to the info from Gerard and conditions were pretty good, so we decided that Hailey would jump in to see if she could see the bottom from the surface. Unfortunately, she couldn’t so we were just going to have to trust in GPS and Gerard.
We started our descent and at about 30-40 feet down, we started to see the bottom and were looking around for anything like an airplane but since we didn’t know the condition of the wreck, we weren’t sure exactly what we were looking for. Hailey glanced back at me to check in and then saw the distinct shape of an airplane a little bit off in the distance. Bingo!
We got down to the wreck and spent a bit of time exploring. As you can see in the photo above and the photos below, there is still a decent amount of the airplane left at the site. We were expecting just some rubble and debris and were pleasantly surprised.
One thing I mentally noted was that the starboard engine / prop were missing but the port side engine/prop were just in front of the wing. I figured maybe that happened during the botched salvage operation, but wasn’t sure.
After I got back home, I did a little research on the wreck and found an entry in the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents website along with a link to the NTSB accident report (both referenced below). The airplane crashed on Sep 8, 1983 and had 10 people (1 crew, 9 passengers) on-board as Gerard noted in his email. The report states that:
About one minute after takeoff, between 400-500 feet msl and during the first power reduction, the right engine backfired. Following some more violent backfires the rpm went to zero. The right engine was restarted but the same result occurred. The pilot attempted to feather the right prop but to no avail. The aircraft was then deliberately ditched to avoid an outcropping of lava. The aircraft came to rest in about 25-30 feet of water. Engine inspection revealed that the #2 cylinder exhaust rocker arm shaft, p/n45937, was missing. Drive train continuity was established with the exception of the #2 exhaust valve. Centrifugal stops prevent feathering of the prop below an engine speed of 500 rpm. All 10 occupants were rescued.Bureau of Aircraft Accidents via NTSB Accident Report
The bold text above is my highlighting.
That likely explains why the starboard engine is no longer there. My guess is that they removed it when it was in 25-30 feet of water in order to inspect it to find the cause of the accident. I’ve included a PDF of the NTSB accident report in the References section below.
I only had my GoPro and a single BigBlue VTL8000 light so quite a few of the photos are natural light. Getting good still photos with a GoPro can be a little challenging but you can’t beat the form factor.
Our dive plan was to visit the wreck and then move “up slope” into shallower waters and then deploy a SMB during our safety stop.
Because he knew we were going to be going shallower, the Captain had said that while he was free diving a while ago, he saw a fishing rod holder that must have fallen off a boat in about 50-55′ of water. He asked us to bring it up if we randomly happened to run across it.
Right near the end of our dive, just as we were getting ready to ascend, we spotted exactly what he was talking about!
What are the chances?
We didn’t have a lift bag, but the frame was aluminum and not too heavy so Hailey and I each grabbed a side, inflated our BCs, got to the safety stop, and deployed the SMB and tied it to the metal frame.
The Captain was pleasantly surprised when we got to the surface and told him we had a gift for him.
Thanks to Gerard for giving me the coordinates and the backstory on the wreck. We would never have found it without his information. I owe Gerard for that one.
Thanks to Hailey and Kona Dive Company. This is not their “normal” dive but they were kind enough to indulge my quest for finding rust.
NTSB Accident Report: