In July 2012, NOAA marine debris divers from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (PIFSC-CRED) discovered a sunken aircraft in the lagoon within Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, in about 10 feet of water north of Eastern Island and reported it to PMNM’s Maritime Heritage Coordinator.

Shortly afterwards, during PMNM’s Maritime Heritage research cruise that same summer, maritime archaeologists conducted an initial survey of the wreck site while at Midway Atoll as part of a larger Maritime Heritage expedition to PMNM. Survey included collection of photographs and video, measured sketches and the creation of a site plan.

NOAA Vessel Hiʻialakai's small boat tends to divers working in Midway Atoll at the sunken Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo site. 
Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

Engine of a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942 during a landing in a squall. 
Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

Joystick from Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942 during a landing in a squall. 
Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

Landing gear from a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942 during a landing in a squall. 
Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

In the months following, the preponderance of evidence suggested that the sunken aircraft at Midway Atoll was a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo, a type of American fighter aircraft used early in World War II and one of the types of planes based at Midway during the Battle of Midway.

Archival research conducted in 2010 compiled a thorough inventory of aircraft losses in PMNM. Two Brewster Buffalos were reported lost within five miles of Midway Atoll. One of these were lost during a dogfight with Japanese zeros and crashed outside of the lagoon. The second of these was lost during a water landing inside of the lagoon in February of 1942 in the same location where the aircraft was surveyed in July of 2012. The nature of the wreckage (indicating a water landing) along with the location led archaeologists to believe that they were looking at the Brewster Buffalo lost in February of 1942.

Propeller, engine and scattered debris from a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942 during a landing in a squall. Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

Glass from the cockpit canopy from a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942. 
Photo Credit: Kelly Gleason/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

Ammunition discovered at the site of a Brewster F2A-3Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942. 
Photo Credit: Bert Ho/NOAA/PMNM Download Image

The pilot of the Brewster found at Midway, Lt. Col. Charles W. Somers, Jr., made an emergency water landing in a squall in February of 1942. He survived this crash and was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in March of 1942 after he engaged in combat with a Japanese four-engine seaplane, destroying the enemy aircraft. The pilot then went on to become one of the first officers attached to VMF-214, the famous Black Sheep squadron. He participated in the Korean conflict and retired as Commandant of the Marine detachment of Pensacola Naval Air Station. 

Lt. Charles W. Somers Jr., second from right, landed short of the runway when returning to the atoll in February 1942. The plane sank; he swam to safety. CreditCourtesy of John Powell

[Via www.nytimes.com]

Brewster Buffalos suffered dramatic losses during the Battle of Midway, despite their contribution to the successful turn of events during that engagement with the Japanese. Of the 19 Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos that took off from Midway Atoll to engage with the enemy during the Battle, only four returned and of those, only two were operable.

NOAA Maritime archaeologist Dr. Kelly Gleason records a broken cylinder head at the site of a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942. Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

NOAA Maritime archaeologist Dr. Kelly Gleason documents the housing for the plane's cable control system at the site of a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo wrecked at Midway Atoll in February of 1942. Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

Maritime archaeologists Kelly Gleason and Bert Ho examine the propeller blades at the sunken aircraft site.
Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

PMNM Maritime Heritage Coordinator Kelly Gleason examines landing gear from the sunken aircraft site, checking for identifying markings. Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

Maritime archaeologist Dr. Kelly Gleason investigates the distinctive landing gear of a wrecked Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo at Midway Atoll.
Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

Maritime archaeologist Bert Ho photographs the engine of a wrecked Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo at Midway Atoll.
Photo Credit: Stephani Gordon/NOAA/Open Boat Films Download Image

Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Download Image

[Via www.papahanaumokuakea.gov]

The Battle of Midway is considered the most decisive U.S. victory of that period and is referred to as the turning point of WWII in the Pacific. The majority of the sea battle took place 100 to 200 miles to the north of PMNM, but an intense air fight was waged directly over and around Midway itself. Numerous Japanese and American planes splashed down at Midway; many of these sites are war graves. 

WWII Fighter Plane Discovered at Midway Atoll - Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo from Stephani Gordon on Vimeo.

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www.papahanaumokuakea.gov | Stephani Gordon (Vimeo) | www.nytimes.com
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