Wreck Diving Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

The B17 Flying Fortress

Text and photos by Bob Hampton

A local dive guide suggested that we begin with a dive on a nearby airplane wreck, a B-17 Flying Fortress.  He sent George the islander, his native employee, to dive with us.  We drove to a mangrove lined cove along the shore of Iron Bottom Sound, just west of Honiara.  A fine, coral sand beach encircled the bright water of the cove.  The water wasn't extremely clear but it wasn't bad.  It had taken nearly a week of island-hopping travel to get here, and it sure felt good to be back in the water.

The B17 Flying Fortress

About 50 yards from shore and 45 feet below the surface we came to the remains of the bomber.  It was lying upright, slightly settled into the sandy floor of Iron Bottom Sound.  It's nose had been bent away from the fuselage just behind the cockpit, but was still partially connected on the port side.  The whole airplane had been mostly stripped and gutted by the local salvage companies.  The fuselage was mangled.  The engines, propellers, tail section, and cockpit canopy were missing.  Of the 13 half-inch machine guns it had originally carried, only the pair in the dorsal turret remained.

Most of the bomber's nose section was buried, but the cockpit itself protruded above the sand.  The seats and some of the control mechanisms were still in place, surrounded by a nebulous cloud of small minnows.  I sat in the pilot's seat for a while, making a futile attempt to imagine what it must have been like to be making a bombing run on some Imperial island outpost.  With my air tank on I could barely fit between the the back of the cushion-less seat and the instrument panel.  I hadn't imagined that the cockpit of a World War II bomber would be so confining, but it seemed as tight as a very small compact car!

Even if it wasn't really what I came for, the bomber was certainly worth a dive.  The sunken Flying Fortress was completely unlike anything I had ever before seen underwater.  And it had a certain energy that was new to me.  It didn't seem to strike me as deep as my shipwrecks had, but it was well worthwhile nonetheless.  And I was glad to be in the ocean again, in the Pacific ocean, in my ocean!  The world above the shoreline never matters under the waves.  Every deep trip is a great one.  They always had been and they always would be.

Text and Photos © 1984 and 1999 by Bob Hampton

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