Walker Underwater
John Walker, Walkerunderwater, Gertrude Thompkin-Silver, P-51 Mustang, T-33,

The Search Continues

The search in California's Santa Monica Bay for the missing P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft flown by WASP pilot Gertrud Thompkins- SIlver has gone on for nearly 12 years. Headed by aviation archeologist Pat Macha, searching for a submerged aircraft became a new and extremely challenging task. Particullary since Pat is not a diver. Thats when he enlisted the help of wreck researchers Gary Fabian of UB88.org. And how convenient could that be since Kendall Raine and I are exploration divers with UB88.org.

santa monica bay
The Santa Monica Bay of Southern California has a history of water quality issues. For years, the "Hyperion" waste treatment facility, also known as the "Turd Burner", has had issues with controlling the release of toxic materials into the ocean off Southern California. This has directly contaminated the Santa Monica Bay with bio-hazardous toxins and caustic chemicals such as raw sewage, trace metals, fertilizers, DDT and PCB's. Groups such a "Heal the Bay" have been working to clean up the bay for years. There efforts have had limited result. Some bare to ask questions like, "what is the actual extent of damage created by the release of toxic waste into the bay ? Or, how long will it take to turn this damage around ? Or can we ?

When researching missing ships and aircraft, deterioration can play a key role in the identification of any new findings. It has been suggested amongst our team that chemicals present in particularly high quantities during the past century have played a significant role in the rapid deterioration of many of these missing aircraft that we are in search of. The Lockheed T-33 jet trainer that we had discovered in April of 2009 had nearly vanished with only a few components left remaining.

Unlike the TBM avenger that we had discovered in San Diego, Ca. which had crashed in an area that is exposed to stronger currents and surge, the T-33 lies in relatively calm waters which are "socked in" the bay. Although the TBM Avenger had crashed 3 years earlier than the T-33, it is in a remarkably good condition, siting upright on the bottom with all its NAVY markings and most of its components intact.

. T-33 Jet EngineTBM Avenger

This T-33 jet trainer flown by Pilot Richard Theiler and Co-Pilot Paul Smith plays an important role in our search for Gertrudes P51. We can examine this wreck site giving us details as to what we are looking for in search of the P51. They too departed Mines Field (now LAX). And on October 15th, 1955 in route to Yuma Arizona, they were never seen again.

The skies that day were overcast and smokey, baring only about 4 miles of visibility. So flight instruments would have been required for take-off and navigating through the hazy skies below an altitude of 1200 feet. This would have been a critical part of the flight . After receiving clearance from the control tower for takeoff, Theiler and Smith, along with their aircraft would soon become missing for the next 54 years.

Family of Richard Theiler
Sister of Pilot Richard Theiler and Grand Children joined us for the briefing on Oct. 4th, 2009 at Torrance Airports, Museum of Flight. It was a real pleasure to be able to bring some closure to the families of the two airmen who have had many questions as to what happened to their loved ones so long ago.

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Between Oct. 3rd and 10th of 2009, a national dive team assembled in Redondo Beach Ca. in a "no holds barred" effort to examine 55 targets imaged on geological survey data and side scan sonar imagery. This effort was to locate WASP Pilot, Gertrud Thomkin's Silver's P-51 Mustang. We began to share updated details from individuals expertise once everyone assembled in Manhatten Beach on Oct. 3rd. The team consisted of volunteers coming from such backgrounds as arhcialogists, FBI agents, sonar operators, dive professionals, members of M.A.S.T. (missing aircraft recovery team), boat captains and family members.

gene ralston
Gene Ralston towed his survey vessel all the way from his home in Idaho and did an amazing job providing side scan sonar imagery which help to identify and dismiss potential targets. Gene also marked many of the 55 targets for the 10 divers, keeping the pace of the project moving promptly.

Sun, Oct 4th. Dive Leader Mike Pizzio had to call off diving operations due to foul weather. That afternoon a briefing was held for the public and media at Torrance Airports, Western Museum of Flight. Aviation Archiologist Pat Macha began the event with vigor , providing amazing detail of what might have happened on Oct. 26th 1944 to Gertrude and her plane.

WASP museum signPat MachaMrs.Theiler,Kendall Raine
Mike PizzioRobert HymanMuseum of Flight

Monday, Oct 5th weather forecast showed 15 knot winds. This all began to clear up my noon. Dive team leader, Mike Pizzio, assembled the first team of explorers.

robin jacoway
Robin Jacoway of San Diego Ca. prepares to descend on what appears to be a Huey helicopter crash that we had discovered in our search effort to locate the P-51

WASP pizzio artifactsWASP joe artifact
Artifact were recovered to ID wreck sites which resembled aircraft. Left: Mike Pizzio holds up artifacts containing part numbers which provide much needed clues. Right: Joe Citelli hands up a pipe which resembles an aircraft component. In all, several aircraft, boats and other lost and dumped equipment was discovered in the bay.

civilian aircraft dashboardexamine aircraft aluminum
Left: Aircraft experts examine part of a planes dash board board recovered from one of the target sites. Right: Even a small piece of aluminum can carry clues to the discovery of Gertrude P-51 as well as other lost aircraft. MAST members Lew Toulmin, Colleen Keller and wreck explorer Dan Crowell discuss possibilities.

The weeks assault on the bay unofficially ended Sat, Oct 10th 2009. Although we did not identify any one of the 55 target as that of Gertrudes P51 Mustang, not all is lost. Many of the targets explored this week were examined and elliminated as being a P-51. New wrecks were discovered in the meantime which might also carry valuable details of tragedy such as with the disaperance of the T-33. The search will continue on a smaller scale for now and with any luck we can soon bring closure to the living relatives of "Tommy" Tompkins and Pat Macha can relax a bit before the next great adventure.

Photo taken by Robin Jacoway of Kendall Raine examining aircraft materials which are believed to be from Huey Helicopter. Since these targets rarely resemble what we would like to see, identification can take week after an initial finding. This is were photographs such a this become handy.

sump plug huey helicopter
Once cleaned, this artifact contained a part number which showed it to be a sump plug for an aircraft. This part was reported to have been used on three different military craft.

cicillian aircraft
Photo taken by Robin Jacoway of a Continental 6 cylinder engine from a civilian aircraft crash. Targets like this help to refine our search efforts.

Thanks to all involved, John Walker
gts group