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Underwater Wakulla- July 12, 2018

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The Albatross By GREGG STANTON

The Albatross

Excitement grew during last week as someone slipped us some new numbers on a recently discovered bomber in 60 feet of water 20 miles off shore. We were told not to release the waypoint as it represented a valued new dive site. I noticed when I entered the numbers into our chart plotter that it was close to a plane wreck that we could not find on previous searches. I also knew there was a USCG Grumman HU-16 that had gone down in in our waters.

This aircraft type called an Albatross, had a worth history beginning in the Korean War under Air Force auspices, designated as the SA-16, conducting combat recue missions.  It was later designated by the Air Force as HU-16B for combat rescue missions in the Vietnam War.  Air National Guard units used this model in support of commando infiltration groups from 1956-1970.  The US Navy used the same model for Search & Rescue missions across the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.  Today, there is an intact plane at the Wright Patterson AFB National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton Ohio.

The HU-16 Albatross was also operated by the U.S. Coast Guardas both a coastal and long-range open ocean Search & Rescue aircraft for many years. They retired their planes in 1983.  But the Albatross continued service around the world. Locally we remember them as the Bahamas Chalk’s International Airlines with service from Florida to the waters around many remote Islands.  In 1997, piloted by Dennis and Macfie, flew a Grumman Albatross around the world, lasting 73 days including 38 stops in 21 countries.

On 5 March 1967, U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatross, Coast Guard 1240, c/n G-61, out of Coast Guard Air Station St. Petersburg, Florida, deployed to drop a dewatering pump to a sinking 40-foot (12 m) yacht, "Flying Fish", in the Gulf of Mexicooff of Carrabelle, Florida. Shortly after making a low pass behind the sinking vessel to drop the pump, the flying boat crashed a short distance away, with loss of all six crew. The vessel's crew heard a loud crash but could see nothing owing to fog.  No cause for the accident is provided. The submerged wreck was not identified until 2006.

When we arrived at the numbers provided, a very small boat was right over the wreck, happily fishing. We circled them with side-scan and picked up the wreck at 62 FSW. Out of respect, we pulled off to the other numbers for the Albatross, about 500 feet away, and anchored for a dive on sand.  When we came up the other boat had left, so we relocated and finished the day visiting the site.

There is a large concrete buoy anchored in the middle of the site with porcelain toilet bowls scattered about.  The wings have engines attached by no propellers remain. Portions of the wings are disconnected, up ended and scattered. We did not find the fuselage but it may be in the area.  The area is home to grouper, including large Goliath Groupers, Red and Grey Snappers, Bar Jacks, Hogfish, and the expected bait balls swirling above.  And Travis, just back from diving it today,  saw one Lionfish.