NOAA Records First Visual Record of One of the B-29 Superfortress Wrecks in the Saipan Channel

In July of 2016, the NOAA Okeanos Explorer made a fantastic oceanographic and anthropological find. It managed to locate the wreck of one of the many B-29 Superfortress bombers that crashed into the Saipan Channel during World War II.

In the final years of war, Tinian and Saipan served as major air bases for raids on mainland Japan (incidentally, the Tinian field was the airfield from which the Enola Gay made its atomic bombing run on Horoshima). Hasty engineering decisions which made the B-29 subject to engine overheating, coupled with the usual pressures of war, led to more than a dozen B-29’s crashing into the channel and sinking into its deep waters.

B29 Superfortress wreck in the Saipan Channel
B29 Superfortress wreck in the Saipan Channel

In the video provided by NOAA below, you’ll notice that the plane settled in an upside-down position on the seabed, with landing gear and three of the four engines still attached. Video evidence suggests that the plane experienced an engine fire prior to crashing into the ocean, though the cause of that fire remains unclear.

Surrounding the wing is wreckage from the forward section of the plane with the lower part of the forward gun turret, the gun barrels (buried in sediment) and the flight engineer’s control panel visible. The fuselage, however, was not located during this dive and it’s unclear if follow-up explorations were made during the researcher’s tight schedule.

Now resting on the seafloor, this wreck serves as an artificial reef and is host to a number of fish and several marine invertebrate species have clearly begun to colonize it. Besides being an outstanding archaeological find, the wreck is also anticipated to serve as a prime source of insight into how the wrecks of large aircraft are integrated into the marine ecosystem, just like the wrecks of ships.

You can also view this video and more deep sea videos on the Common Naturalist YouTube channel