After hitting a submerged bommie, pre take-off, our US Navy seaplane #274 had to be beached, and fast!**
A USAF C-130 flew repair equipment in from Guam later that day. It would take days for proper repairs to both sides of the hull. A new seaplane #250 from Agana, Guam arrived to collect our team, including much heavy equipment.
JATO (Jet Assist Take Off) rockets were needed to get our seaplane airborne. A memorable experience when you are standing near the tail, alongside the rockets as they ignite. Twin rockets burn for 12-15 seconds generating 1000 pounds of thrust each. That’s 4000 horsepower!
At the co-pilot’s command we-three moved our body weight toward the nose of the aircraft (to adjust trim) as the plane struggled to reach required take-off speed of 60 knots. Once ignited the rockets can’t be turned off. Later they were jettisoned over the sea.
Ahead were numerous submerged coral heads or ‘bommies’ and eventually, a rim of exposed solid reef – which we fortunately and narrowly missed. – Team mate Ken DaVico returned from the co-pilot’s seat (where he’d been stationed to spot markers we’d placed on bommies) ‘white as a ghost’. Ken said “the pilot was shaking much more than himself”.
Another reef contact would be far more serious now with twin rocket propulsion devices fixed to the rear doors. When ignited JATO’s can’t be extinguished. It would have been a spectacular finale.
Sixty six scientists and underwater photographers were assembled at Guam (USA) into teams of four. Each team had one tonne of brand new equipment including an inflatable boat, 20 horsepower outboard, fuel, air compressor, scuba tanks, tents, food, film.
Plus international travel and accommodation to and from Guam, plus a fee for services! Not a bad deal.
National Geographic sent a photographer, the New York Times had a reporter there.
More than ten teams were assembled for an average three-week expedition scattered through the North Pacific.
An unexpected sudden budget cut-back axed the documentary film I was there to make, so I went along anyway and recorded these pictures, just low resolution copies from originals being shown here.
We ‘discovered’ two of the most remote islands left in the North Pacific. Close to the equator these were both traditional Polynesian cultures similar to sister establishments in more southern locations – all being the western extremities of ancient Polynesian open-canoe migration which began thousands of years ago.
A wonderful experience with more than a touch of danger associated with the military aircraft ‘training flights’ and water landing’s. A take-off with JATO was most memorable.
The adventure and associated pictures would justify the pages of a small ‘coffee table’ book one day. It remains my favourite adventure of all time.
JULY 4 2005. Team member Ken DaVico wrote:
I will never forget our adventure to Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro. Those were certainly some memories to be cherished. I watched a TV show, a game show called “Wheel of Fortune” and was surprised when the co-pilot of our airplane was a contestant. He mentioned our crash on the reef at Kapinga Atoll and said it was the most exciting thing in his life. Funny how we get re-connected. We were young back then. Hard to believe that I am 68 now but then, I can do things today I would not have thought of doing then.
I did go back to Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro the following year. Went down by sailboat from Ponape for a follow-up expedition sponsored by the Trust Territory. All our local friends were still there and many asked about you. I was told by the chief that you and I were welcome back anytime.