SATURDAY MORNING and no sub. Weve
been searching since Election Day, and wonder which
well see first: the midget or the next President of the
United States. But we gather once more on Pier #13, a blue-collar bastion of grease, hardware, and machinery,
surrounded by the shopping malls and gleaming towers of
Honolulus commercial district.
As the American Islander heads to sea and leaves the
towers in the distance Bob Ballard spreads his charts on the
navigation table. Not only have we covered most of the
targets that the Park Service located in 1988, but we have
also found new onesships, tanks, and piles of scrap.
If the midget sub met its end here, only a few possible areas
are left to search.
But Ballard has been on deadline before, and he knows
geology. Look, he says, pointing to the chart, close to
the harbor entrance is an underground scarp, a sort of wall.
Its possible that the sub could have been sinking in
the direction of the butte, slammed into it, and fallen into its
shadow. It could be nestled in the geology.
This prospect gives new energy to the search, and
today we send out both of the expeditions imaging
vehiclesArgus and Lil Hercules. They are complex
and sophisticated robots developed for Ballards
Institute for Exploration by engineer Jim Newman.
Newman is on board, his round-rim glasses usually glued to
the monitors inside the control room, but he tends to visit
the vehicles before a dive as if they were prized horses,
nervously patting them down, soothing them. Argus is
attached to and lowered by the ships winch by
fiber-optic cable, and Lil Herc is attached to Argus with a
tether. The arrangement allows Lil Herc, the size of a soap-box-derby car, to maneuver and turn nearly at will, while
Argus acts as a stabilizing platform.
In the dimly lit control room, Ballard stands in the
awkwardly placed stairwell like a submarine commander at
the con. Through Lil Hercs camera we watch
Argus flight through white sea snowactually
a storm of plankton lit up by the searchlights. The
gleaming, stainless steel craft suspended in the sea always
looks heroic, like the fictional spaceship Enterprise of Star
Trek plowing through interstellar space. Engage! Lil Herc
looks more like a computer mouse, dragging its tether cord.
Tedium creeps into the control room between targets,
and Ballard often breaks it up by launching into an old song
from the 1950s. The songs always trail off after a few lines,
which he says is all he can ever remember. Sometimes 15-16
people are packed into the room, half the size of a standard
Lil Herc is suddenly upon a white Cessna 150 aircraft,
lying upside down in the silt at 1000 feet (300 meters), looking very
clean, eerily intact. It was lost in 1984 after it was rented
by a woman, who bailed out and parachuted to safety
before her plane plummeted. Later we find an intact
torpedo, about eight feet (over two meters) long.
Yes, it is Japanese, confirms Katsuhiro Hara, the
historian who is cruising with us each day. It must have
come from one of the midget submarines. Our aircraft
didnt fire at any submarines outside the harbor.
Hara-san speaks broken English, but is constantly
poring through history books and writing intense little
clusters of characters with a red pencil. He wears a baseball
cap that he holds on his head with a strap around his chin,
and is good company for Dewa-san, the elderly Japanese
The torpedo has tailfins and a double screw, where a
brown sea urchin has made its home. Its broken in
the middle, probably from the fall or an explosion, and
missing its nose, where there is only a square hole. The
Park Service survey also reports an unidentified
periscope, or a similarly shaped object near here. A live
torpedo here, a periscope there? What if the midget fell
apart after being bombarded by depth charges from the
Did the sub implode? says Ballard. This is a
thousand feet of water with, lets see30
atmospheres of pressure. Thats enough to implode
it, to cause it to collapse. It could have imploded and is
lying in pieces on the ocean floor.
We know that only one of ten Japanese midget-submariners returned home from the mission, Sakamaki, and
he was thoroughly ostracized by his nation for allowing
himself to be captured. Branded a coward, Sakamaki moved
to Brazil and became head of the Toyota company there.
He never got over his shame. But thats a whole new
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