Passage Maker - - News & Notes -

Trav­el­ing to Kiska Is­land is no small feat. Our team had to catch the twice-a-week flight to Adak, Alaska, a for­mer U.S. Navy base. Closed in the mid-1990s at the end of the Cold War, the base now only houses a few hun­dred hardy in­di­vid­u­als. Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Adak, we faced a 250-nautical-mile west­erly tran­sit across the un­for­giv­ing rough wa­ters of the Ber­ing Sea. The Aleu­tian Chain, where the Ber­ing Sea meets the Pa­cific Ocean, is known for high west­erly winds through­out the year thanks to the low-pres­sure sys­tem known as the Aleu­tian Low. And Adak it­self is known as the “birth­place of the winds.”

While a ro­bust satel­lite link to our ves­sel pro­vided con­tact to the out­side world, the re­gion in which we were op­er­at­ing was ex­tremely re­mote. The near­est first re­spon­ders were at least four hours away by air (and that’s as­sum­ing the weather was co­op­er­at­ing to al­low the long-range U.S. Coast Guard he­li­copters to fly). Safety was, of course, a pri­or­ity for ev­ery phase of the ex­pe­di­tion, and daily briefs at break­fast for all on­board re­in­forced this fo­cus.

An­other way to put into con­text the re­mote­ness of where we were work­ing was this: The near­est Star­bucks, in An­chor­age, Alaska, was 1,400 nautical miles away. That would be like trav­el­ing from my house in San Diego to Chicago for my morn­ing grande dark roast.

This ex­pe­di­tion to such a re­mote lo­ca­tion as the Aleu­tian Is­lands would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the di­rect sup­port of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), the on­go­ing sup­port of un­der­sea tech­nol­ogy re­search by the De­part­ment of De­fense–Of­fice of Naval Re­search, and the gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tions from the Fried­kin Foun­da­tion, which helps Project Re­cover con­duct searches for U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel miss­ing in ac­tion (MIA).

While the aca­demic ob­jec­tive of the ex­pe­di­tion was to con­duct a cul­tural re­source sur­vey of the Kiska Underwater Bat­tle­field, this jour­ney also shoul­dered the chal­lenge of search­ing for, find­ing, and doc­u­ment­ing the underwater re­minders of the tragedy of war. Lever­ag­ing high tech­nol­ogy and in­tel­li­gence gleaned from de­clas­si­fied his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, Project Re­cover serves to find the prover­bial nee­dle in a haystack so we can find sites as­so­ci­ated with lost U.S. ser­vice mem­bers to rec­og­nize their sac­ri­fice and pro­vide clo­sure to fam­i­lies whose loved ones paid the ul­ti­mate price for the free­doms we en­joy.

The searches on this ex­pe­di­tion did not come with­out risk—the ocean is un­for­giv­ing on the best of days, and we were op­er­at­ing in wa­ters where fog, wind, and wa­ter tem­per­a­tures in the low 40s are the norm. For­tu­nately, we had a team of some of the world’s best un­der­sea en­gi­neers, an­a­lysts, ma­rine sci­en­tists, tech­ni­cians, and even an underwater foren­sic arche­ol­o­gist with sev­eral years’ ex­pe­ri­ence as a civil­ian sci­en­tist at the De­fense POW/ MIA Ac­count­ing Agency (DPAA) to sup­port the mis­sion. At times I felt like I was sail­ing with a com­bi­na­tion of NASA rocket sci­en­tists, NASCAR pit crew tech­ni­cians, sur­geons, and the Delta Tau Chi fra­ter­nity brothers from An­i­mal House.

This unique com­bi­na­tion of ex­per­tise and lev­ity was needed for this trip, one of the largest ex­pe­di­tions for Project Re­cover. Our goal was to doc­u­ment around 12 square miles underwater while search­ing for 10 U.S. air­craft and an ap­prox­i­mately 75foot sec­tion of the de­stroyer USS Ab­ner Read. In to­tal the losses as­so­ci­ated with th­ese wrecks in­cluded 117 MIA U.S. ser­vice mem­bers whose re­mains have never been ac­counted for. We were also search­ing for sev­eral Ja­panese war losses as we doc­u­mented this for­got­ten bat­tle­field, in­clud­ing sev­eral sub­marines.

Dur­ing this sum­mer­time ex­pe­di­tion, the 17 hours of daylight we had at this high lat­i­tude were both a god­send and a curse as there was am­ple time to work, but lit­tle time to sleep.

The ma­jor­ity of our search re­gions were on the eastern side of the is­land. While we were pro­tected from the strong west­erly seas by Kiska Is­land, some­how enough wind was able to flow through the gaps of the windswept hills to keep the breeze strong in the coastal wa­ters. The USS Ab­ner Read was known to be lo­cated on the “up­wind” side of the is­land, so I kept my eye on the fore­cast for a lull in the winds to bring the ves­sel around to the search box we had iden­ti­fied.

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