Maui History Underwater

A nearly intact Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver rests just outside Maalaea Harbor. The plane crash-landed after a training exercise gone wrong in 1944, though both the pilot and radio operator emerged safely. -- ED ROBINSON photo

A nearly intact Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver rests just outside Maalaea Harbor. The plane crash-landed after a training exercise gone wrong in 1944, though both the pilot and radio operator emerged safely. — ED ROBINSON photo

MAALAEA — As the scuba divers slip farther into the depths of Maalaea Bay, the hulking shape of a seven-decade-old, coral-encrusted airplane looms into view. The wreckage is almost completely intact, its wings stretched wide across the ocean floor, its underbelly lodged in the sandy bottom.

It’s been sitting there since its pilot and radio operator ditched it during a botched training exercise in 1944.

“I get very excited finding these types of sites,” said Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “As archaeologists, we’re always seeing something in the present, and then in our mind’s eye doing some time travel.”

Above water, traces of Maui’s World War II history are visible around the island. In Haiku, 4th Marine Division Memorial Park reminds visitors of Camp Maui, where Marines relaxed and trained for warfare. In an empty field alongside Mokulele Highway, a two-story concrete communications building stands alone in what was once the bustling site of the Puunene Naval Air Station. But several remnants of Maui’s role in the global conflict are underwater — rarely seen by residents or visitors.

For the past three years, a team of divers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii has been documenting underwater wreckage around the islands, the first inventory of its kind in the state. To find the sites, researchers have relied on Navy records, newspaper clippings, local divers and underwater surveys.

The engine of a F6F Hellcat sits at the bottom of Maalaea Bay. Hellcats accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, but some ended up in the waters off Maui during training. -- ED ROBINSON photo

The engine of a F6F Hellcat sits at the bottom of Maalaea Bay. Hellcats accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, but some ended up in the waters off Maui during training. — ED ROBINSON photo

They count 404 confirmed wreckage sites of planes, ships or major parts around Hawaii. All told, there are 2,120 confirmed and possible sites that have yet to be found but are detailed in historical records. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management funded the study and plans to release it soon, Van Tilburg said during a presentation at the Maui Ocean Center on Thursday.

Once home to a major air station and training grounds, Maui has its share of underwater wreckage. Most sites are along the South Maui coast, with a handful off West Maui and the north shore.

Troops preparing for combat in the South Pacific used the island to rehearse operations. Barbed wire was strung up and down the Kihei coastline to simulate the shores of Iwo Jima. Keawakapu Beach had an amphibious training pier where Navy personnel learned embarkation techniques like climbing rope ladders.

“Amphibious tactics, that strategy, was really developed in the ’30s and came to fruition during the war, and is the reason we were successful in the Pacific, I believe,” Van Tilburg said.

Meanwhile, the Puunene Naval Air Station grew to become one of the major flight training stations in the country, excellent for hosting large numbers of squadrons and for practicing night combat tactics. From this base, countless aircraft launched — and some ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talks about crashed planes and shipwrecks in Maui waters Thursday night at the Maui Ocean Center. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program have documented wreck sites around the islands to create the first inventory of its kind in the state. -- The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talks about crashed planes and shipwrecks in Maui waters Thursday night at the Maui Ocean Center. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program have documented wreck sites around the islands to create the first inventory of its kind in the state. — The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Just outside Maalaea Harbor, the wreck of a Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver sits submerged. Local fishermen and dive operators knew of the site and, to the delight of researchers, the wreckage is mostly intact, with a visible serial number that helped pinpoint “the exact incident that led to its demise.”

“Helldivers were dive bombers. It was their job to climb really high and plummet toward their target, release the bomb and then pull out at high G’s,” Van Tilburg said. “They were heavy and they splashed in quite frequently. This was perilous business.”

On Aug. 31, 1944, pilot William E. Dill and radio operator Kenneth W. Joe were doing combat exercises. As they were pulling out of a second steep dive, mounting pressure twisted the plane’s vertical tail assembly, “resulting in complete loss of rudder control,” according to the U.S. Navy’s crash report. They tried to fly back to Puunene but realized they weren’t going to make it and had to ditch the aircraft in the water. Both climbed out to safety.

In a shallower section of Maalaea Bay, an F6F Hellcat is broken up along the ocean floor, where diver Roger Pannier stumbled upon it around 1983, longtime Maui diver Ed Robinson said. F6F Hellcats were “excellent fighter aircraft” that accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, Van Tilburg said. Over time, the wreckage of the Hellcat has fallen apart under restless ocean movement, though the three-blade radial engine and steel landing gear are still fairly intact.

“Often the only things we find on really heavily impacted aircraft wreckage sites is the engine, maybe the prop and the landing gear,” Van Tilburg said.

In 1945, upward of 540 aircraft were lost in Hawaiian waters.

“That averages out to one or two splashing in every day for the entire year,” Van Tilburg said. “That is a tremendous statistic. That is the commitment in material, in production and sometimes in lives that we made just for training in Hawaii.”

Planes aren’t the only sunken military vessels off Maui. In Makena Bay, the hulls and tracks are what remain of an LVT-4 (landing vehicle tracked). The amphibious vehicle was an innovation for its time because it allowed troops to unload onto the beach via ramp, instead of climbing over the sides and further exposing themselves to enemy fire. While not as “glorious” as a battleship or cruiser, “this was the meat of the game,” Van Tilburg said.

All of the known wreckage around Maui was due to training accidents, though researchers don’t have information on how many resulted in casualties, Van Tilburg said.

The wrecks aren’t too eerie, he added. They’re mostly just peaceful fish habitats.

“One thing about these wreck sites is that they’re always home for fish,” he said. “I’ve always told students, ‘Fish love their history.’ But I think what the fish actually like more than that is not being eaten by bigger fish.”

Unfortunately, some sites have been disturbed, like the PB4Y-1 Liberator that Doug Niessen found in more than 200 feet of water off Olowalu around 1985. When Robinson photographed the wreck of the long-range naval patrol aircraft in 1987, the plane boasted twin .50-caliber machine guns. In 2006, only one was left, and it wasn’t due to natural deterioration.

“Those are divers that came and took that machine gun out of this historic property,” Van Tilburg said.

State and federal laws protect historic properties, he explained. The Sunken Military Craft Act says that military aircraft and ships remain the property of the federal government unless Congress takes them off the list. Sunken wreck sites are federal property, and damaging them can lead to consequences with the Navy.

More wreckage is yet to be discovered, not only from World War II but also from the sugar plantation days of the late 1800s, but that, Van Tilburg said, is a presentation for another day.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected].

Mala Pier Dive – Maui-Hawaii – Lahaina Divers

Some of us Salty Dogs made it over to Lahaina, Maui to go on a two-tank dive with Lahaina Divers this last Friday.  Being that it was Spring Break high season, we appreciate Lahaina Divers fitting us into their busy schedule and taking us to Mala Pier.

Mala Pier is a quick boat ride from the marina in Lahaina.  It was a fun day.  We saw a lot of sea life and visibility was good.  Thanks, Lahaina Divers!

Salty Dogs crew poking around the dive boat.



Beautiful island of Maui.

White Tip Reef Sharks resting.

Frog Fish

Hawaii Six Scuba Dives –

Hawaii is one of the most stunning locations on the planet, both on land and under the water. Located 2,500 miles away from the nearest continent, Hawaii is the most remote archipelagos on the planet. As Hawaii is so remote, this means more encounters with species that you wouldn’t normally see in other places around the world. The best thing about diving in the waters surrounding Hawaii and its islands is that no dive is the same. In addition, visibility is pretty much excellent all year round. As well as great visibility, there are many species endemic to Hawaii, so this can provide one-off experiences to those who have never visited these waters before.

Where is Hawaii?

Top 6 Dive Sites In Hawaii

Manta Ray Night Dive, Kailua Kona

Manta Ray, Hawaii

Manta Ray, Hawaii

Listed as one of the top dive sites and experiences on nearly every top 10 dive sites list there is, the Manta Ray Night Dive is an experience like none-other. Large lights are built into the ocean floor, which attract unbelievable amounts of plankton to the area, which in turn provides a smorgasbord for the majestic Manta Rays of Kona, Hawaii. However, watch out because the Mantas like to come so close to you that you usually have to duck out the way, before they whack into you. This is nature in all its glory and if you’re traveling to Hawaii, then make sure you don’t miss out on this unbelievable experience.

Sea Tiger Wreck, West of Waikiki, Honolulu

Surgeonfish, Hawaii

Surgeonfish, Hawaii

The Sea Tiger is a former Chinese trading vessel that was confiscated in the early 1990’s for carrying 90 plus illegal immigrants into Hawaii. The Sea Tiger was then purchased by ‘Voyager Submarines’, cleaned up and then sunk as a part of a dive enrichment effort. The wreck stretches approximately 45 meters and boasts some of the most spectacular sights.

With the plethora of marine species that have made this wreck their home, its pretty hard not to see why this dive site made it to our top 6 list. Residents of this wreck includes; 6ft sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, moray eels, eagle rays and huge schools of fish, just to name a few.

Divers are able to penetrate the wreck with the correct dive certifications, entering through the cargo holds and bridge. Even though there is some miner degradation, the Sea Tiger is still in relatively good shape, making it an amazing experience for wreck diving enthusiasts.

Back Wall of Molokini Crater, Maui

Stunning Coral, Hawaii

Stunning Coral, Hawaii

This spectacular dive site often has a slight current, however it’s more or an intermediate to advanced dive site due to its unique ledges and wall drop off. This is a great spot to enjoy a leisurely drift dive. Due to its depths and lack of a bottom, the visibility reaches well over 30m, which is great for seeing wildlife including sharks, manta rays, dolphins and even whales during certain seasons.

The Forbidden Island, Niihau

Rainbow Fish, Hawaii

Rainbow Fish, Hawaii

This amazing dive location can only be accessed from late spring through to the beginning of autumn, as the winter brings swells that are too big to take on as a diver. This is a dive for experienced divers only. There are a number of dive spots at this location, from relaxed dives over 5m of pristine and beautiful corals to walls that drop below 60m. You’ll find spinner dolphins and even monk seals at this location as well as some rare species of fish and plenty of stunning coral.

The Cathedrals, Lanai

Turtle, Hawaii

Turtle, Hawaii

If you ask any diver who has been to Hawaii, what they would class as a great dive location, the Cathedrals is usually their answer. The depth of this location is around 18 to 20 meters, visibility is excellent and every level of diver can enjoy this dive. The two pinnacles that form the Cathedrals can be used as a great wall dive, as well as providing stunning arches and exciting caves to explore. The caverns roofs have heights of up to 6m and are covered in lava rock that lets in little bits of light from the surface, similarly to a stained glass window.

Corsair, Oahu

The Corsair airplane wreck is found roughly 3 miles away from the Hawaii Kai marina. It sits in 35m of stunning blue pacific waters and is in an upright position. Due to its location, the waters are quite rough, so this is for advanced divers only. The plane sank in 1948 and was originally on route from Pearl Harbor when the captain noticed the fuel gauge was going down quite quickly. He thought it was a faulty gauge and decided to continue on with his journey, when the plane suddenly began to splutter. The captain managed to land the plane safely in the water and it then sank with no damage. The captain was later rescued.

Divers are able to penetrate this wreck, however be aware that the yellow margin moray eels like to make this wreck their home, and are not keen on scuba diving invaders. Larger marine life also like to hang out around this airplane wreck with stingrays, sharks, tiger sharks, rays, manta rays and even during certain seasons, whales like to swim by. This is an excellent dive site that should not be missed, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii.



There are so many amazing dive sites found around the islands of Hawaii, so if we have missed any off this list, please let us know about them in the comment box below!



Hawaii Really Quick Island Guide

Some of the most reliable pleasures of Hawaii travel include exploring its national parks, multiethnic cuisine and indigenous culture. A luxurious spa treatment rarely goes amiss, though some may prefer the riskier adventure of scuba with sharks. Here’s an island-by-island look at what’s new in those various vacation modes:

– Jeanne Cooper


Online reservations are now required to view sunrise from the summit district of Haleakala National Park. The cost is $1.50 per vehicle, payable via up to 60 days in advance; the receipt and photo ID must be presented to enter the area between 3 and 7 a.m. The fee is in addition to park admission, which costs $20 per car and is valid for three days. Note: The park holds 30 spaces in reserve until 24 hours before the next sunrise, so die-hards can always try to rebook quickly if skies are cloudy.

Meanwhile, in the park’s Kipahulu district, the tiered pools of Oheo Gulch (nicknamed the “Seven Sacred Pools”) have been closed indefinitely following a rock slide Jan. 3 that prompted concerns of further slides, especially during the typically rainy winter months. Check the park website for updates.


Sea Life Park’s new Shark Tank Experience allows novice and experienced divers to swim with the sharks — blacktip and whitetip reef, sandbar and hammerhead varieties — in a 300,000-gallon aquarium. The daily adventure takes place at 2:30 p.m.; admission to the park is included in the $199 fee (

If you’d rather eat than think about the possibility of being eaten, new options appear as regularly as surf in Waikiki. Royal Hawaiian Hotel is marking its 90th anniversary by opening the first stand-alone bakery among island hotels. Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the Royal Hawaiian Bakery sells classic and tropical-themed pastries, such as Koloa pineapple coffee cake and haupia cream brioche.

One hotel down, at the Outrigger Waikiki, the Hula Grill Waikiki now serves brunch seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; locally sourced poke tacos, strawberry mochi waffles, local eggs and ahi katsu sandwiches reflect island style ( The new Waikiki Yokocho in Waikiki Shopping Plaza takes its inspiration from Japan’s food-filled alleyways (yokocho), offering 14 intimate restaurants and bars. The latest to open is 28-seat Tsujita Ramen, known for its Ajitama Tsukemen ($13), a slow-cooked broth with soft-boiled egg accompanied by thick noodles and other toppings.,

Honolulu’s Kakaako neighborhood has attracted two spin-offs of popular restaurants. Piggy Smalls, a Ward Village offshoot of Chinatown’s the Pig and the Lady, offers Vietnamese specialties such as “pho-strami” banh mi sandwiches and vegan pho (


Visitors to Poipu Beach no longer have to wonder what’s the story with the four towering tikis overlooking 13 acres that for years were covered with brush and weeds. A new viewing platform and walkway sport five interpretive signs sharing detailed stories of Ke Kahua O Kaneioluma (“the Kaneioluma complex”), first mapped in 1959 and including a centuries-old heiau (temple), rock walls, home sites, games arena and fishpond.

Big Island

Visitors to the Kohala Coast looking for other evening entertainment will soon be able to see first-run movies in a new cinema with leather seats, cocktails, wood-fired pizza and more. Currently under construction, the three-screen Waikoloa Luxury Cinemas plans to open this spring in Queens’ MarketPlace.

There’s a new way to view Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park ( as well as the historic and cultural sites of Kailua-Kona and Keauhou. Using an all new Hydra-Terra amphibious tour bus, Big Island Duck Tours ( takes 40 passengers on a tour/pub quiz that cruises down 7½ miles of Alii Drive, then heads to Honokohau Harbor for an actual cruise past ancient fishponds and a former Hawaiian village. Tours start at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday; the cost is $49 adults, $35 ages 2 to 18.


While the reopening of the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele has been pushed back till next year, the other resort on Larry Ellison’s island continues to increase its luxury quotient. At the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the eight treatment rooms at the new Hawanawana Spa include four couples’ suites with side-by-side treatment beds, rain showers, and a cozy living and dining area.

Given that most guests from the mainland spend hours waiting for connecting flights in Honolulu to Lanai, the resort has opened its own airport lounge, on the second floor of Honolulu’s Overseas Terminal. Guests can check into their room; book dinner, a spa treatment or other activity; and enjoy free Wi-Fi, movies, food and drink, among other amenities.


Ferry service from Maui ended in late October, increasing pressure on the limited nonstop flights to the island. Hawaiian Airlines’ Ohana ( offers daily service on 48-passenger turboprops from Honolulu, Maui’s Kahului airport and Lanai, while Mokulele Airlines ( and Makani Kai Air ( offer daily service from Honolulu on nine-passenger turboprops.

Book flights and lodging early for popular events such as the Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival, June 1-3,, or the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championship, July 30,



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