WRECKS OF ASIA

Asian Diver (English) - - Front Page -

EX­CITE­MENT BUILDS as I recog­nise the fa­mil­iar shape emerg­ing be­neath me. The dis­tinct out­line is of the A6M Zero, the le­gendary World War II Ja­panese fighter that I once built mod­els of as a child. Hov­er­ing above the 17-me­tre-deep seabed, I stare in an awe-in­spired trance at this in­cred­i­ble war­bird. Both revered and feared by the men who flew against it, this air­craft was the most ca­pa­ble car­rier-based fighter the world had ever seen dur­ing the out­break of war. In the hands of a good pi­lot, of which there were many in the Ja­panese Navy, this renowned dog­fighter was a tough match for any op­po­nent it en­coun­tered. “Never try to turn with a Zero” be­came the mantra of the Al­lied pilots as this fast, light and ma­noeu­vrable en­emy forced them to change their tac­tics to sur­vive in air bat­tle.

This wreck was dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent in Jan­uary 2000, by a lo­cal free­d­iver fish­er­man, WilIiam Nuli. The pro­pel­lers are in­tact, in­di­cat­ing the en­gine may have shut down be­fore it plunged into the sea as spin­ning blades often shear off. There is also no vis­i­ble ev­i­dence of bat­tle dam­age, so did it run out of fuel or did the en­gine sim­ply fail?

The pi­lot’s canopy is open and the plane faces the shore less than 100 me­tres away. The con­di­tion of the air­craft in­di­cates a con­trolled land­ing, so did the pi­lot skill­fully land on wa­ter and then es­cape to the jun­gles of New Bri­tain? This is the pop­u­lar story of Tomi­haru Honda, who is iden­ti­fied as the pi­lot of this air­craft af­ter re­search on the mark­ings of this A6M2. It’s never been es­tab­lished whether Tomi­haru Honda made it safely back to base; his fate has been lost in time, but due to Wil­liam Nuli’s chance find, we now at least know part of his story.

Text & im­age by Steve Jones

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