>Our first encounter with the aircraft occurred while we were sonar mapping the seafloor near our home in La Jolla, Calif. The discovery was unlikely; aboard our 13-foot dinghy we were equipped only with a consumer-level side-scanning Humminbird sonar and a lot of patience.
>When we first dived the site in November 2013, only a few inches of what was then just an unidentifiable metal mass poked out from underneath the hard-packed sandy bottom. By chance, when we decided to revisit the site seven months later to look for some smaller targets we had previously recorded, we were stunned to see the outline of an entire airplane emerge from the gloom as we descended. The winter storms had apparently swept away enough of the sand to transform the obscure metal mass into the remains of a vintage aircraft.
>The information on the plate allowed us to access naval records that revealed the plane's production in 1951, its service history and its ultimate demise on May 19, 1953. Surprisingly, we also found a photograph of the aircraft taken during its assignment to the aircraft carrier USS Antietam.
>According to the official incident report, the pilot ditched the warbird after experiencing engine trouble during a training exercise. He managed to land the plane in one piece on the ocean's surface; he exited the craft without incident and was rescued by a helicopter. The plane reportedly sank less than one minute after it landed. Just days after the crash, the Navy began a 12-day salvage operation, but it ultimately proved unsuccessful.
>Although this particular Skyraider has been underwater for more than 60 years, its 50-foot wingspan remains largely intact. Four 20mm cannons, in two pairs, adorn the wings. Its enormous 18-cylinder engine is broken away from the fuselage and lies next to the portside wing, partially buried in the seafloor. The cockpit, torn open and exposed, contains instruments, controls and the pilot's seat and safety harness. Scores of electrical switches and circuit breakers line both sides of the cockpit.
>The wreck site does not appear on any known map or other marine navigational resource, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's listing of known sunken vessels and aircraft. Besides a 1953 newspaper article reporting the crash, no other information about it has been published.
>Federal law strictly protects the wreckage of any U.S. military aircraft. The aircraft, its artifacts and debris field may not be "disturbed" without severe civil and even criminal penalties pursuant to the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004.
>We have contacted several aviation-history museums in an attempt to solicit preservation or recovery of the aircraft via a permit from the Navy. Until such efforts bear fruit, the wreck will be left intact in its present position, awaiting discovery by the next curious divers looking for a new dive spot and an exciting glimpse of aviation history.
>To learn more, visit LaJollaSeaLife.com.
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>© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2015