Unseen images released of Pearl Harbor’s first victims: U.S. Navy’s sunken seaplanes


On the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, rare images of a U.S. Navy airplane sunk in the opening minutes of the surprise raid by Imperial Japanese forces have been released. The aftermath of that morning on December 7, 1941 was the event that brought the U.S. into World War II.

Before their assault on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese’s air fleet strategically bombed Oahu’s east coast where the U.S. Naval Air Station’s seaplane base was located. 27 Catalina PBY “flying boats” at Kaneohe Bay were destroyed leaving the U.S. vulnerable to the Japanese planes that later bombed Pearl Harbor.

The University of Hawaii and other local dive groups have been trying to capture photographs of a wrecked PBY-5 Catalina since 1994—three large pieces strewn along the sand 30 feet deep. Little is known about the crew attached to this plane, but it’s believed they died while attempting to take off upon realizing the nation was under attack. They’ve managed to excavate necessary images we can add to the arsenal of rare images out of Pearl Harbor’s varied history.

The tail section of PBY-5 Catalina.


The upper wing’s surface, leading edge to the left.


One of the divers surveying the engine of the seaplane.


A look at and into the port hull and mid-fuselage break.


A diver examines the gunner’s forward turret on a PBY-5 Catalina resting on its right side. 

These photos of sunken flying boats reminds people that there are other direct sites and casualties on Oahu beyond the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Utah that also deserve to be honored.

The murkiness of Kaneohe Bay’s waters have always proved a challenge until this past June as underwater visibility and camera equipment improved. Because of it, students of the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program were able to conduct a thorough archaeological survey of the aircraft, with the assistance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It also resulted in the first systematic photo and video documentation of the entire site itself.

Categories: Oʻahu