About the site
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was a hugely successful American-made flying boat, produced from the 1930s and still in service well into the 1980s. A multi-function aircraft, Catalinas were used through WWII for long distance patrol bombing, as convoy escorts and for rescuing downed crews from the ocean’s surface. This particular Catalina, the A24-11 was being operated by the RAAF as a munitions carrier when she crashed in January 1942.
Shortly after takeoff from Kavieng Harbour a wing bomb exploded, and the aircraft went down in approximately 20m of water. Despite another Catalina pilot witnessing the accident and landing to rescue survivors, the 9 crew aboard went down with their plane.
About the dive
This was my second boat dive at Lissenung Island Resort. The explosion that brought this plane down was on the port side, and the body, tail and cargo of the plane are scattered over the sand. The starboard propellor in the foreground here is still attached to the wing, whereas the port wing lies behind and perpendicular to the port propellor. The mount where the port propellor used to attach to this wing can clearly be seen in the second photo here.
Having dropped down through the clear water to the wreck, I did a quick lap to look at the whole thing. As well as the propellors and wings full of glassfish, there are bombs and bullets scattered across the bottom, part of the Catalina’s cargo. The way the two propellors have lined up on the bottom provides some great lines. Once my lap was completed, I settled in close and spent some time waiting for fish to be in the right spots.
About the photo
The shot above was really all about framing. While the water was relatively clear for the ocean, it wasn’t the crystal clarity of the freshwater caves. Twenty metres of water was also filtering the tropical sunlight coming down from above. These two factors meant I wanted to get as close as possible to get strobe light on the foreground, and avoid losing the far propellor in the blue. Having an ultrawide angle lens on the camera is essential for getting close while still getting the whole scene in the shot.
I initially took shots with the camera right down on the sand. I found that while the top propellor blade stood out against the blue water, the details of the engine behind each propellor were hidden. On the other hand, rising up too far meant shooting the wreckage down against the sand. A compromise position about a foot off the bottom seemed best. Lastly, I converted the shot to black and white in post-production to emphasise the lines of the wreck.