AN ELUSIVE PLANE WRECK
John leaned off the side of the boat.
He peered into the waters below, desperately trying to make out any outlines which would vaguely resemble a crashed plane.
We’d been drifting around an area off Fiji’s Beachcomber Island in search of the wreck. A World War 2 B26 Bomber had crashed in the area back in the day, believed to have killed all those on board.
Some years ago, the wreck was a regular dive site for the companies servicing the area. However in recent years, there appears not to have been the demand for the dive – and the in-house dive team at Beachcomber Island had since shut up shop, taking away any sources of information regarding the site.
The island’s skippers were unsure of its exact location – and it seemed the other dive teams in the area were also unable to pinpoint the site.
To make things more difficult, the mooring which once signalled the dive site, was now underwater.
In true John-and-Juliette-travel-style, we were armed with only GPS coordinates, trusty Google Maps and no actual physical map of how to get to the site.
The last time we had relied on coordinates and Google Maps in Fiji, it resulted in a disastrous misadventure – but we were certain this time would be different. Plus we had extra help – our Fijian skipper.
GPS COORDINATES: BETTER THAN INSTINCT
As we scoured the waters with an eye carefully on the GPS system, we wondered why this incredible piece of history had been forgotten in recent years.
Our GPS coordinates had lead us to a spot in the middle of the ocean between two islands. John donned his snorkel and mask to dive into the water in the hope of catching a glimpse of something on the sea floor.
“I think it’s here!” John exclaimed with confidence. “I can definitely see something…”
But no sooner were the words out of his mouth when our skipper shook his head. He looked unconvinced.
“No, it’s not here. This is not the site,” he told us.
He started up the boat again and took us a little further to the spot where he believed the wreckage lay. Looking at his face, he began to look more and more confused and less assured of his own instincts.
John and I exchanged glances as our skipper looked into the water.
“I think we go back to where you said it was,” he told us.
Resorting to our GPS coordinates and Google Maps trick, we drifted back to the previous location. John got his diving gear on and decided to descend into the water by himself first, to establish whether this was actually the correct location. I stayed onboard with our skipper as we followed John’s bubbles.
A few moments later he ascended, signalling me to join him – diving a WW2 Bomber wreck was about to be ticked off our Fiji bucket list.
DIVING A WW2 BOMBER WRECK
The B26 Bomber is broken up and scattered on the sea floor. A piece of rope connects the different parts of the wreck.
As I joined John underwater, the shadows on the sea floor became clearer. We began to make out the outlines of wing sections, both engines, a propeller, a pilot seat, electronics, even ammunition.
I remember after our last wreck dive, the MV Raiyawa off Tivua Island, thinking that shipwrecks were a bit spooky. And that was a purposely-sunk vessel, not a ship that had come to a tragic demise.
This wreck was different.
Diving the WW2 Bomber wreck was fascinating, but also tragic. A reminder of those who sacrificed their lives in the 1940s around the world. According to other divers, the occupants were killed but their skeletons have never been found.
Seeing entire wing sections on the sea floor was haunting. This was the final resting place for the plane – but I wondered where was the final resting place of these men. What were their families told? Where are their living relatives?
What was also tragic is the lack of information about this plane and its history. John and I tried to search for information about it online, but there are few clues as to the story behind this wreck.
We kept following the rope but eventually started making our way back to an area for our 5-metre safety stop.
THE UNDERWATER SHOW
As we ascended, we were delighted to come across a huge coral structure exploding with fish life, just 5 metres below the surface.
We floated in the most gorgeous cobalt blue water. If it weren’t for us needing to retain our regulators in our mouths, our jaws would have dropped wide open.
It was like a fish playground: parrotfish, sergeant fish, damselfish, all-the-colours-of-the-rainbow fish darting in and out of coral as if they were playing a round of hide-and-seek while swinging and sliding and generally having the time of their lives.
I could have stayed there for 20 minutes, but our air pressure levels gave us no option but return to the boat.
Our skipped assisted us and noticed our wide smiles.
“Now, don’t you forget this site!” John told our skipper, who assured us it was locked in his memory.
As we arrived back on Beachcomber Island, the resort’s staff were eager to find out if we had found the wreck. In a manner that can only be described as authentically Fijian, the staff were all as ecstatic as we were that the trip had been a success.
We’ll be adding some video this piece shortly as well as uploading it to our new YouTube channel. Please subscribe so you can be alerted when our dive videos are up!
DETAILS: There are day trips available to Beachcomber Island but you can also stay there overnight at Beachcomber Island Resort. Note that there is no permanent dive centre on the island. If you plan on diving a WW2 Bomber wreck, please give advance notice so staff can coordinate your dive trip.
DISCLAIMER: We were graciously hosted by Beachcomber Island Resort for our day trip and dives to the wreck. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.Tweet