The Nonga Biplane

Text and photos by Bob Hampton


On my first day in New Guinea my dive guide, Peter Miller and I headed west out of Rabaul and then north.  It wasn't far to the northern New Britain coast, on the Bismark Sea.  Peter said we were near Nonga, a small village that had a hospital run by nuns.  We stopped next to the shore and put on all our dive gear except masks and fins.  To get to the deep water we had to hike across a submerged reef that averaged about a foot and a half underwater.  It was at least a hundred yards to the edge, where we put on our masks and fins and dropped off into the deep, blue water.  The weightlessness of the ocean was a welcome relief after sloshing through the water on the sharp, uneven coral, weighted down with an air tank and all the rest of my gear.  It sure felt good to be back in the ocean.  The water was bright and clear.

The Nonga Biplane

The Nonga Biplane

A short swim along the sandy bottom brought us to a Japanese airplane, a relic of World War II.  It was a Misubishi F1M biplane sitting upright on the ocean floor, 90 ft. deep.  It was almost completely intact!  Or at least as intact as an airplane could be after spending about 40 years on the bottom of the ocean.  The fuselage, wings, engine, pontoons, and propeller were all where they should be.  The cockpit even had some of it's instruments and controls still in place.

Nonga Biplane

Instrument Panel in the Nonga Biplane

The reason the plane was in such good shape was it hadn't been shot out of the sky in battle.  It had been floating there, anchored just off the reef, when it was strafed by an American plane.  It's punctured pontoons had allowed it to sink and then gently settle into the sand at the bottom of the Bismark Sea.

The whole thing was coated with thin, red sponges, the kind that sometimes cover the smooth surfaces underwater the way lichens cover smooth stone above.  And small forests of flowing soft corals were growing on the fuselage and wings, along with a few zig-zag clams.

Nonga Biplane

Tail of the Nonga Biplane

It was an excellent dive.  I had been at Rabaul for less than 24 hours and had already been diving.  I loved Rabaul.


Text and Photos © 1999 by Bob Hampton


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