Navy, Marine Team Recover P-8A from Hawaiian Bay

December 4, 2023 2:31 PM
Diving and salvage experts working alongside U.S. Navy sailors and Marines use inflatable salvage roller bags to extract the U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon from waters just off the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Dec. 2, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

A team of U.S. Navy salvage experts, Marine Corps air support teams and contractors over the weekend successfully recovered a P-8A Poseidon that had been floating in a Hawaiian bay since it overshot a runway two weeks ago.

“After meticulous planning and assembling specialized equipment from off island, a multidisciplinary team of military and civilian experts carefully raised the P-8A Poseidon from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Dec. 2,” U.S. 3rd Fleet officials said in a statement issued Sunday afternoon.

On-scene commander Rear Adm. Kevin Lenox told reporters Monday the removal was smooth and uneventful.

“The aircraft has added the bay and the salvage operation is complete. So the team worked smoothly through the weekend under ideal conditions, and everything happened according to the plan,” he said.

The Navy used divers to place a series of inflatable rollers under the P-8A and then raised the aircraft and slowly moved the aircraft to shore on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Navy jacked up the aircraft, changed the tires and the plane will be washed today.

“At that point the aviation maintenance team and investigation team will take control of it and will continue their investigation,” Lenox said.

The salvage operation is costing about $1.5 million, which covers “the cost of the Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) assets and contracted personnel from SMIT Salvage and Center Lift,” Third Fleet said in a statement. “We will have more accurate figures after the salvage operation is complete but are focused on safely recovering the aircraft, protecting the environment, and doing it in a way that retains the aircraft’s combat capability.”

The P-8A Poseidon sits on the runway of Marine Corps Air Station Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Dec. 3, 2023. US Navy Photo

The Whidbey Island, Wash.-based P-8A maritime reconnaissance and patrol aircraft had been sitting in the shallow edge of the bay since its Nov. 20 attempted landing at the airfield. The aircraft, which ran off the end of the runway into the bay, was structurally intact, officials said, but part of its landing gear was wedged in the delicate coral reef.

Last week, crews with Hawaii-based Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 emptied its fuel tanks, which officials said had about 2,000 gallons of fuel. Officials explored options of craning the airplane or floating it onto the runway. Float bags and other equipment arrived last week.

“Once on land, the aircraft will be inspected and monitored until it is towed to a wash rack, where it will be cleaned with fresh water to begin the process of reclaiming and repairing the aircraft,” fleet officials said in the statement. “The wash rack is a designated area with segregated drains that prevents any of the rinse water from getting into the bay.”

Lenox, who commands Carrier Strike Group 3, said during a Friday press briefing that he remained confident the aircraft could be returned to operational status but noted further assessments and close inspections by aircraft engineers would be made once it was removed from Kaneohe Bay. With a maritime mission focus, the P-8A is designed to resist salt corrosion, he said, “so we’ll see how that holds up.”

“Once it’s settled in its final parking spot, the aircraft will return to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing and they will be able to begin the process of doing the assessment and repair on that aircraft and, if feasible, the Navy plans to return that aircraft to operational status,” he added.

Marine Corps and Navy crews had deployed booms to contain any fluids spilling from the airplane. “We’ve had eyes on the water around the aircraft since it went into the water, and there’s no detection of fluid” out, Lenox said. “So nothing has gone into the water.”

Federal and state environmental officials have been closely monitoring the containment and recovery planning amid local concerns that the mishap has damaged the coral reef and polluted the waters. The bay is home to coral reefs and sea life that includes hammerhead sharks and sea turtles. “We plan on working side by side with the state of Hawaii and Marine Corps Base Hawaii,” Lenox said at the briefing. “We have nothing to hide.”

“Most of Hawaii has a front-row seat to the operation,” he added.

Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 174, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, working alongside private industry diving and salvage experts and U.S. Navy Sailors, reposition inflatable salvage roller bags from under a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon during the aircraft’s extraction from waters just off the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Dec. 2, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps airfield sits along the northeastern eastern edge of Kaneohe Bay and on the western side of the Mokapu Peninsula. Anyone driving north from Pearl Harbor and over the mountains along the H3 cross-island highway is treated to spectacular views of the air station and the peninsula’s Ulupa’u Crater on Oahu’s windward coast.

Three Navy pilots along with a crew of two officers and four enlisted personnel with “The Skinny Dragons” of Patrol Squadron 4 were aboard the airplane when the it landed at the airfield. For undetermined reasons – the Navy is investigating the cause – the Poseidon ran off the runway and splashed into the bay. All nine crew members evacuated the aircraft and no injuries were reported, the Navy said.

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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