TUESDAY MORNING is another one of those
glossy Hawaiian productions, featuring rainbows and palm
trees for local props, and starring Bob Ballard and a boffo
supporting cast. Historian Stephen Ambrose, another
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, has arrived to
gather material for a book about the war between Japan and
the United States. But its getting a bit crowded in
the galley, where most of the team is constructing peanut-butter-and-jelly muffins as we head seaward.
A sense of urgency stiffens the air; only three search
days are left. But for the final push we have new tools.
Argus and Lil Hercthe imaging vehicleshave
been packed away. Engineers and welders have re-fit the
deck of the American Islander for two one-man
submersibles owned by American Deepwater Engineering:
Deepworker #8 and Deepworker #9.
These submersibles, the size of Volkswagen Beetles,
look like space-age lounge chairs with mechanical claws.
The pilot sits nearly upright in a compartment thats
not much roomier than his skin. His feet manipulate levels
that control movement, leaving his hands to work radio and
videotaping. His head is enclosed in a viewing bubble
similar to the cockpit of an old fighter plane. The
Deepworkers can reach 2000 feet (600 meters), and are capable of
staying submerged for 16 hours. Ironically, they offer less
instant communication than Ballards remote-operated vehicles; they dont send back a constant
stream of video, but are linked only by radio to the ship.
First to descend is Kip Evans, a clear-eyed young
photographer and marine biologist from California. His
mission is to find the Japanese torpedo we had sighted
earlier, and use it as a starting point to explore along the
scarp that fronts the channel entrance to Pearl Harbor.
Deepwater #8 and #9 are parked in two white vans on
the stern of the ship, and are drawn by winch to the stern
along metal tracks. At 9:30 a.m. we launch #9. The
powerful hydraulic A-frame crane hooks it, plucks it up,
extends it over the water, and drops it in. For a moment the
vehicle floats, a bizarre moment when only the calm face of
Kip Evans appears in the water like an apparition. And
then it is gone in a nest of bubbles.
Ballard and key team members now crowd into the
closet-sized control room in the ships belly, with
standing room only. On the radar screen the Deepworker is
a buglike red blip wandering among blue concentric circles.
Into the roar of the ships diesel engines and the
electronic hum comes a hollow sound like water dripping:
Blop! tip-tip! Blop! tip-tip! Blop is the sound of the
mother ships acoustic modem signal, crew chief Rob
Kraft explains. Tip-tip is the answer from the roving
submersible. It is the hen clucking to her chicks, in case
they wander past the barnyard fence.
And then Evans disembodied voice comes in,
wrapped in static: I see sand and some outcroppings.
Target about 50 feet [15 meters]. Hes closing in on the torpedo,
about 500 feet (152 meters) from the beginning of the harbor channel.
And hes finding more debris, and taping.
Deepworker #9 and Evans are back on deck up by
1:30 with the video, which Ballard quickly plops into a
player. Technicians and veterans crowd around the screen
as if they were watching the final match of the World Cup.
Evans has thoroughly examined the torpedo. Hara-san, the
Japanese historian, flips through a Japanese manual of
arms, nodding. Yes, Japanese, Japanese.
Ballard now acknowledges that hes looking
for sub parts, not the whole thing. Will the next two
Deepwater divers spot a conning tower and pieces of hull in
Toward mid-day Mitch Seil, piloting Deepdiver #8,
sees pieces of cylindrical metal debris. One piece has a hole
in it. Spirits soar. Next he reports a rack of what look like
batteries. Good! The midget subs ran on batteries, not fuel
oil. Ballards face takes on color, a song forms on his
lips. Has he done it again?
But the tape is disappointing when Mitch brings it
up. The round objects are too small to be from the sub, the
batteries are simply ammunition clips. Enthusiasm drains
from the room. No cigar, no smoking gun.
Later Kip Evans feels compelled to explain something
deeper that he felt on his descent: Flying down there at
750 feet [228 meters] and slowly coming up on those debris areas, I
started to form an image of what those midget pilots must
have felt. I go out as a pilot, and its a lonely place,
but I always expect to come back home. They were going
into something that was far more dangerous than what I do,
into the unknown. They realized, Were not coming
back. I cant even fathom how terrible that
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