Sunken Airplane

sunken airplaneSCUBA diving is simultaneously my favorite and most dreaded hobby. Favorite, because it provides incredible adventures in a truly alien world, where you float as weightlessly as if you were in space, with creatures that could never exist on land. Most dreaded, because it always leaves a big hole in my wallet (or it would, if I carried a wallet). Plus, sometimes it can get downright scary.

Allison and I had recently acquired our SCUBA certifications. Beyond the standard open water and adventurer (seriously, that’s what that SSI certification is called), we’d also gotten certified for wreck diving. Anyone can dive around a wreck and look in through whatever holes it has, but going inside of a wreck is something else entirely. It’s much more dangerous than regular SCUBA diving.

Wrecks don’t get much current flowing through them, so they tend to build up a lot of silt, which can easily be kicked up into a blinding cloud by an errant flipper. Wrecks, like coral, can be fragile, or sharp, or contain hidden predators (or just animals that don’t like it when surface dwellers invade their home), and if you ever found yourself inside of some coral I imagine it would have many of the same dangers. Only cave diving is said to be more dangerous, and neither of us is certified in that yet.thailand (20)

There are two kinds of wrecks: deliberate, and accidental. An accidental wreck is what you think of when you hear “wreck”: something that was supposed to stay above the ocean is now underneath it. Something went wrong with a plane or a ship, and now it’s a lot deeper and a lot wetter than it should be. A deliberate wreck, on the other hand, is when some piece of large, metal junk (often a plane or ship, but sometimes a sculpture or even a tank!) is deliberately put in the bottom of the sea.

Why would anyone do that? It turns out that the sea, especially in the shallows near the shore where most marine life lives, doesn’t have as many rocks in it as you might expect. It’s mostly sand. Things like coral need something solid to grab onto to grow on, and sinking deliberately sinking something metal gives them the foothold they need. Deliberate wrecks (and accidental ones) are quickly covered in coral and other stationary sea life, and become a haven for fish and other creatures that feed on the coral, creating a whole new little ecosystem. It creates a gorgeous mixture of man-made objects being reclaimed by nature, one of the main things I go to ruins to see.

Allison and I were doing our first independent, non-training wreck dive. We went down to the plane, circled it, and went briefly inside, taking turns. We had a line, a thin rope tied to something outside the wreck, which is there so you can find your way out in case you get blinded by silt, but fortunately neither of us needed it. The airplane is a fairly short wreck, compared to a full size ship, so there’s not that far to go inside of it.

thailand (9) We’d finished exploring the interior and were doing loop-de-loops around the wings, showing off for each other, when Allison got just slightly too close to it, and a piece of jagged, rusty metal sliced just below her knee-length wetsuit and cut a semicircular slash in her skin. Fortunately the blood didn’t attract any sharks, or I’d be telling a much more tragic story, but she still has the scar from it. It’s a nice match to the one I got on my foot from some coral earlier that week.


The photo of the plane is used under the Creative Commons license. The other photos I actually took while snorkeling, using my cell phone in a waterproof case! The wreck is off the coast of Koh Tao, Thailand, on the opposite side of the island from the abandoned resort. Allison and I got certified at Big Blue Diving, which also ran the dive where we went to the ship.

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