Archaeologists from NOAA and the University of Hawaii have released incredible images of a U.S. Navy plane sunk during the opening minutes of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 1941.
Just minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor, aircraft from the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu, NOAA explained in a press release. Some 27 Catalina PBY "flying boats" on the ground or moored on Kāne‛ohe Bay were destroyed in the attack.
A University of Hawaii dive team attempted to photograph the wreck of a Catalina PBY-5 in 1994 but was thwarted by the murky waters of Kāne‛ohe Bay. An attempt by a local sport diving group, Hawaii Underwater Explorers, met with limited success 14 years later.
However, in June, with better visibility and using improved camera equipment, a team of students from the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program returned to the wreck and conducted a detailed archaeological survey, NOAA said. The effort was coordinated by Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The plane, which is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, rests in three large pieces at a depth of 30 feet. Van Tilburg explained that while the precise identity of the aircraft remains unknown, it is possible the crew died while attempting to take off in the face of the attack.
"The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack," Van Tilburg said, in the press 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."
Related: Historic tanks in pictures
"This sunken flying boat is a window into the events of the attack, a moment in time that reshaped the Pacific region," said June Cleghorn, senior archaeologist at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. "Understanding this site sheds light on the mystery of the lost PBYs and honors the legacy of the Navy and Marine Corps Base in Hawaii."
Catalina PBY seaplanes were used as long-range patrol bombers by the U.S. military. NOAA notes that the strike on the planes’ Oahu base was a significant loss, adding that the bombers could have followed the Japanese planes back to their carriers.