P-38 Lightning “Skip Bombing Mission” (Solana Beach, CA — 180 fsw)

About six months ago, Tyler sent me some bathymetry data of a possible target off Solana Beach and said “I’ve been looking at that target up there off Solana Beach. It’s in 180 looks aircraft or some weird rock reef but I was researching if any planes went down off the area.”

One limiting factor is that Solana Beach is quite a haul north from Mission Beach where Lora has the Marissa so we were waiting for the right conditions and when Tyler and I were both available to dive.

In the meantime, Tyler had a chance to go out on a trip with Steve Lawson and Chris Gilmartin on Steve’s boat last weekend. They launched out of Oceanside and scanned a bunch of targets and then Chris dove the one target Tyler had earmarked. After diving the target, Chris surfaced and said that it was a real target and a twin engine airplane. Tyler and Steve reviewed the GoPro footage and surmised it was likely an upside down P-38. We just confirmed that 100% on our dive.

This week our schedules all aligned and we had a short weather window so Tyler and I went with Lora and Chris on the Marissa up to Solana Beach to photograph and document the wreck. It had a very small return on the sonar. On the sonar image on the left, you can see fish, but almost no structure. You can see the white marks on the right side of the sidescan image below. Neither of us thinks we would have actually dove it if we didn’t already know a P-38 was there.

Tyler and I suited up and jumped in. My plan was to shoot some still photos and then start shooting photos for a photogrammetry model.

It was definitely a COLD dive with the bottom temperature at 50F and deco at 20 feet at 60F. There was also a reasonably good current below 70 feet or so and I was fortunate that Tyler had taken his scooter and got me from the downline to the wreck as we were going straight into the current. The current also makes taking pictures for a photogrammetry model very challenging.

A happy Tyler above one of the engines on the wing

P-38 Lightning

This is actually the third P-38 Lightning I have dove in Southern California. The first is only a couple miles south of this target and the second is a P-38 that got into an unauthorized dogfight with a Corsair off of Newport Beach. I detailed a lot of info about the P-38 on the posts mentioned above so I will only include a photo below as reference for the photos and photogrammetry model.

The P-38 is a very unique airplane and was “wicked fast.”

Lockheed P-38 Lightning (photo from US Air Force)

Aircraft ID

Note that the airframe is relatively intact but it is upside down and the “skin” is almost completely gone from the wreck so getting a 100% positive ID off the wreck is unlikely. Tyler has done some research on P-38s that crashed in that area and has a possibility. The interesting thing about this specific airplane BuNo 42-66617 is that it was in three accidents. We are relatively confident that this is the right ID but will probably never know for sure.

Below is a screenshot of a site listed in the References section (note that there are two pages) that show the three different accidents for this aircraft. The third and final accident was on Nov 19, 1943 (top row in the chart).

Tyler found a couple wartime diary entries for the same accident that have a little more information. We are also trying to order the official accident report from Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research but that will take some time (if we even get it).

For those readers unfamiliar with the area, Solana Beach is just north of Del Mar and wasn’t really a separate community until relatively recently.

The generation of soldiers and airmen in WW II has been called “The Greatest Generation” and the term was popularized by a 1998 book with that as the title by newsman Tom Brokaw. It was truly a different time when, from my perspective, people were all in it together for a common cause and they gave selflessly for that cause.

During my research for this post, I found that the pilot 2nd Lt. Stephen G. Endres of the 330th Fighter Squadron at North Island lived to be 98 years old and passed away on November 3, 2014. I really wish he was still alive or we had found the airplane sooner so that he could “see” his plane. 2nd Lt Endres was quite the soldier and airman and flew 72 combat missions in P38s and was a awarded several medals including the Purple Heart.

The Greatest Generation indeed.

Stephen Endres Obituary

Photogrammetry Model

I was able to take enough pictures to build a reasonably good photogrammetry model. Below are some screenshots and a link to the model in Sketchfab that you can rotate, move, etc. The model has 377 pictures and took about 4 hours of processing total.

Note: The P-38 that we dove is upside down so keep that in mind when looking at the photos.

Below is a link to the on-line model

Photos

The first photo below is a natural light photo that I really had to open up the aperture, slow down the shutter speed, and boost the ISO to take so it is a bit grainy but does give a good sense of the overall structure of the wreck.

Below are additional photos with some key details of the wreck. I’ve included two schematics / cutaway diagrams of the P-38 as well to help identify the parts of the wreck.

P-38 Cutaway
Annotated cutaway with numbers referring to the photos below
Photo 1 – Twin engine oil coolers
Photo 2 – Oxygen tank (center of photo) and engine coolers (off to the sides)
Photo 3 – 50 Cal ammo in the nose
Photo 4 – Guns in the front of the nose (at the bottom of the frame sticking out)
Photo 5 – Underside of the port side wing
Photo 6 – Underside of the V10 Allison engine
Photo 7 – Tire and part of the rim tucked into the tail section (in front of the oxygen tank in Photo 2 which is at the right of the frame)
Photo 8 – Central landing gear and tire remnants
Photo 9 – Central landing gear tire rim
Photo 10 – Tail section fallen over into the sand
Photo 11 – Battery behind the two engine coolers
Photo 12 – Out away from the wreck, the propeller hub and a broken blade buried in the sand

References

Air Crew Remembered

Stephen G. Endres Obituary

Thanks To …

As usual, Chris & Lora (and of course her beagles Captain and Scout) at the Marissa are fantastic. They always gets the downline right on target and are just fun to dive with.

Steve Lawson and Chris Gilmartin for offering to dive far off targets with Tyler and with the distinct chance of getting skunked.

Tyler did an incredible job combing through a ton of bathymetry data and, sure enough, found the one spot where a P-38 had crashed. Bravo once again!

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