Wars, weather and other powerful forces have downed aircraft in all corners of the globe — and we get to dive that sunken aircraft.
There's something about a sunken aircraft that draws divers like magnets. Unlike shipwrecks, which have a strong aquatic context, planes and water simply should not mix. It is even more exiting than cage diving. That's why experiencing one on the seafloor is so exotic.
The crash landing was inevitable. B-17 pilot Frank Chaplick had intended to bombard Italy on Valentine's Day 1944, but German fire stopped him, ravaging two of the plane's four engines. His mission aborted, Chaplick targeted Corsica as a safe haven, but the island's control tower operator warned him that the airstrip was too short. Chaplick made a quick decision and aced a water landing, barely damaging the bomber as he laid it down near the Calvi citadel.
Now in 92 feet of water, the sunken aircraft — nicknamed "Baron" — is still largely intact. The cockpit is exposed, providing access to the pilots' seats. Portions of the metal shell have decayed and now shed light on the interior.
Despite visibility that typically reaches 80 feet or greater, the wreck would be nearly impossible to find without a guide due to its location on sand. Pieces of the sunken aircraft still haven't been recovered, including the tiller, which a research group hopes to locate this September.
The dive season in Corsica extends from April through October. Most dive operators offer daily trips in July and August. However, you'll skip the crowds in April and May, when weather can be less reliable. But it is definitely more exiting than cage diving.
Eten Island, Chuuk
Nicknamed "Betty" by Allied forces during World War II, this 66-foot-long vessel sits perfectly upright and intact on white sand at a depth of 50 feet. As you explore inside, and sit in the cramped gunner and pilot seats, it's surprising to realize that this Japanese tactical and torpedo bomber was designed to carry a crew of seven very long distances — without any of the modern comforts of commercial planes.
Swim the perimeter to encounter the tail cannon and machine guns, as well as scattered debris: radios, oxygen cylinders and a toilet. Under the wings, colonies of banner fish have adapted to the artificial environment by turning their lives upside down — literally — and swimming inverted.
To find the engines, ask for the compass heading. The impact completely stopped the plane, but momentum carried them several hundred feet.
Conditions vary little throughout the year in Chuuk. The islands lie outside the typhoon belt. That is much more exciting than cage diving.
Don't be surprised by the German, Australian and British accents: Divers from around the world come to northwest Ohio to explore the Gilboa Quarry, home to a Grumman Gulfstream I airplane. One of 200 made, this 64-foot-long twin turboprop wreck is perfectly intact - even the landing S gear survived the 2001 sinking.
Those with an ice or cave diving certification can penetrate the fuselage. The habitat is home to 16 stocked fish species, including blue gills, perch and catfish.
Also in 35 feet of water, nearby lies a bonus: a 64-foot long Sikorsky "Double Deuce" helicopter. Better still, quarry owner Mike Williams has plans to add two additional planes next year.
Summer water temps climb to 80 degrees at the surface and 46 degrees at depth; however, visibility is better in April. Water is also clearer earlier in the day. Note that the quarry typically opens at 8 a.m.
Boga Boga Village, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
Arguably the best-preserved underwater plane wreck, this sunken bomber rewards divers comfortable with currents and its 144-foot depth. Attempting to return from a mission to New Britain in 1943, the 10-man crew encountered engine failure just before reaching Cape Vogel Airport. Local villagers saw them ditch the aircraft and rescued them all. The nose suffered the impact, but the rest of the 74-foot-long structure — from the tail and turrets to the propellers — remains relatively untouched. The machine guns still rotate.
Due to depth, time on the wreck is extremely limited for recreational divers. Fortunately, visibility typically extends 100 feet or greater, so while ascending, you can continue to appreciate the structure — an experience made easier by the white-sand backdrop. As you decompress, you'll likely encounter a school of batfish, as well as reef, whitetip, blacktip and gray reef sharks.
November through April brings the most favorable weather; July winds often limit accessibility to the site. If you have wreck or cage diving certification level – this plays is for you.