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Midway: looking for the wrecks

UpdateWhat the early divers failed to uncover, a tusnami did, and a Buffalo that crashed short of the runway was discovered in ten feet of water.


A tip of the virtual hat to Larry Lassise, who emailed this photo and the following account of a Midway dive:

the runway at Eastern Island
"an abandoned runway from Eastern Island looking east where many VMF-221 pilots departed for the last time"

In May of 2001 I flew out to Midway Atoll to fulfill a life long desire to explore the place that had held so much rich military history. In the course of the week I was able to complete numerous dives on the surrounding reef while constantly keeping in mind the possibility that we might run across a wreck or two. At the time, it was my understanding that most of the airplanes that were shot down were well to the west of the Atoll in deep water.

Though I never discovered any wrecks I was able to enlighten the dive operator of the potential for some great archaelogical finds. No sooner did I return home, an email was waiting for me from the divemaster informing me of a wreckage he just happened upon in very shallow water. He found numerous rounds of .50 caliber ammo date stamped "41" and "42". Also located were a pair of .50 cal Browning Machine Guns, a variable-pitch propeller, a wheel strut, and fuel lines. A followup email vaguely indicated he found the aircraft wreck itself but he would not elaborate any more.

With this news I began trying to determine whose aircraft this might be. Over the last 18 months I was able to locate and speak to the three surviving members of VMF-221. From their knowledge and the wreckage location that was given to me by the divemaster, I have theorized the wreck could either belong to Capt. Herbie Merrill (MF-9) #01524 or Lt. Martin Mahannah (MF-18) #01559. I am inclined to believe it is Mahannah's but I need to survey the thing in order to try to get some sort of identifying details.

I had planned to go back to Midway last summer to survey the wreck but unfortunately the FWS closed the island for visitors. And as for the divemaster who found the wreck, he is now part of a Marine Archaeology expedition from the University of Hawaii that is now canvassing the reefs around Midway for historical finds. I'm sure you'll be hearing more from them within the next year. -- Larrie Lassise