HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This past August, the research vessel Hi'ialakai made two trips to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The scientists aboard came back with several significant discoveries: extensive coral bleaching, newly discovered marine wildlife, and a World War Two era fighter plane.
"The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was probably the most iconic American fighter aircraft of World War II" said Burl Burlingame, Curator of the Pacific Aviation Museum. This particular 'Flying Tiger' as it was referred to, was found in the water off the east runways at Midway atoll.
Dr. Kelly Gleason described the find. "In 25 feet of water was an engine and some landing gear. We knew we were looking at a historic aircraft but we didn't know which type."
Gleason and her team discovered other parts approximately 300 feet to the west. Subsequently, they were able to identify the craft as a P-40. From there, Gleason checked historical records on the plane.
"It was lost when the controls froze during a training evolution, and the pilot ditched, parachuted out to safety but the plane was a total loss," she said.
Having identified the aircraft, Gleason took it a step further. She identified the pilot as Lieutenant Ray Obenshain Jr. He passed away in 1983, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife is also deceased. Gleason has so far failed to connect with any family members. However, that hasn't taken away from the value of the find.
"Being able to see the way this man career unfolded after this accident was really powerful."