A diver inspects the plane's forward turret. (UH Marine Option Program)
A tear in the porthole and mid-fuselage break speak to the impact of the attack. (UH Marine Option Program)
Fish swim around the cockpit of the Catalina PBY-5. (UH Marine Option Program)
Structure members of the tail section lie a short distance away from the starboard wingtip. (UH Marine Option Program)
A Catalina PBY-5 takes off in 1943. (U.S. Navy)

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View a Rare Seaplane Lost Just Before the Pearl Harbor Attack

The plane was a casualty of the first phase of the raid that took place on December 7, 1941

smithsonian.com

It’s been 74 years since 353 Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, sunk 19 ships and destroyed 169 aircraft. Now, students from the University of Hawaii have surveyed and documented a rare wreck of a plane that was downed in the moments before the fatal attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Catalina PBY-5 was a common aircraft during World War II, but the specimen at the bottom of Kāne’ohe Bay is a reminder of an often forgotten attack. It was one of 27 of its kind destroyed in the moments before fighter planes reached Pearl Harbor itself. The Catalina, which was located at the Kanaohe Air Station on the east coast of Oahu, is believed to have been downed while attempting to take off during the attack. That station was actually the first base attacked on December 7, 1941. Damage to the planes at the still-new base was so extensive that only three were fit for service by the end of the attack.

Students from the University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program were able to investigate the wreck after several failed attempts by other groups, writes NOAA in a release.  As part of a field school that teaches students how to survey shipwrecks underwater, researchers dove to the wreck and conducted a detailed archeological inventory. They were able to map the wreck and document a critical moment in the attack that changed the course of world history.

“The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack,” said NOAA archeologist Hans Van Tilburg, who coordinated the project, in the release. “The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7.”

Click here to view other images and video of the downed plane—a silent, sobering reminder of the devastation that rained down on Kanahoe Air Station 74 years ago.

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