New images of a large US Navy seaplane that sank in Hawaii waters during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor show a coral-encrusted engine and reef fish swimming in and out of a hull. The video and photos are the clearest images taken of the Catalina PBY-5 wreckage to date, says Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. The seaplane had a wing span of 100 feet, about comparable to a modern-era Boeing 727 commercial jet. It now sits in pieces 30 feet below the surface in Kaneohe Bay next to a Marine Corps base, about 20 miles east of Pearl Harbor on the other side of Oahu. There were an estimated six of these planes—also called "flying boats"—in the bay at the time of the attack, but Van Tilburg says nobody is sure what happened to the others.
The base, which was then a naval air station, was among several Oahu military installations attacked by Japanese planes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Van Tilburg says a mooring cable is still attached to the plane, but there are signs someone started the port engine before the plane sank. This indicates a crew may have died while attempting to take off as the aerial assault began. The Catalina PBY-5 could hold an eight-man crew, and four 500-pound bombs. Standard practice was to keep someone on the seaplanes at night to make sure the aircraft didn't drift off. There were aviator casualties in the water, but it's not known which planes they were on or when they got off, Van Tilburg says. "That's one of the mysteries of the story," he says. Click for more on the Catalina PBY-5. (Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)