CSIG finds lost World War II plane

In July 2017, the lead CSIG surveyors for the Erne systems, Robert Navan and Mike Kingston, were surveying in the Broad Reach area of Lower Lough Erne using the usual grid pattern with their bathymetric sounder, a Garmin fishfinder, when they observed what appeared to be an interesting target at 45 meters depth. Further scans showed more targets in or around the area, but with the equipment they had they could not identify exactly what the targets might represent. Robert decided to progress these targets further being aware that after World War II, a number of planes had been scuttled in the area, and also that a small number had crashed during the war. In particular, the location of the aircraft that had crashed had remained unknown since then, even though divers from both the USA and the UK had tried a number of times to relocate it. In 2018, Robert and Mike added side scanners to their surveying equipment and proceeded again to the targets to see if they could expand their knowledge of what they had found. The side scan results were pretty clear that there was definitely something at the targets but given that their equipment was limited in scope they were still unable to identify what they had found.

Robert decided to make contact with Rory McNeary, known to the CSIG through a founder member Donal Boland. Rory is a senior archaeologist with the Historic Environment Division in the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland. He works on loan to the Marine and Fisheries Division in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) as their retained marine archaeologist. Rory took a keen interest in this survey project, realising that this would potentially make for an important aviation and underwater archaeological discovery, and suggested we bring on board some of his colleagues in DAERA who had superior equipment than the CSIG had, and also lots of experience in underwater survey. Hence Tim Mackie and Ron Snijder joined the team. However, by the time all the approvals and documentation had been put in place we had reached the winter season and the vessels had been put to bed. Come early April, with both Robert’s and Mike’s vessels in the water and a good weather window appearing, we all met up at the Lough Erne Yacht Club on Monday 8th April. Loading of the specialised equipment took some time with a very heavy ‘fish’, long towing cables, monitoring equipment, GPS units, cameras and so on, but by late morning we were heading up the lake to the first target position. I should say at this stage that we had also been joined by Sarah Breen, who had been engaged by the BBC to film the whole event, so look out for this towards the end of the year.

The journey up took about an hour, but with Robert’s and Mike’s auto helm it was really easy, (must get one of these for my barge), and the first contact was made with the target. Mike had accompanied us in his own vessel, Escapade, and acted as rescue boat should we come into any difficulty. The ‘fish’ was lowered with about 50 meters of cable off the swimming platform on the back of Robert’s boat, and was gradually lowered by adjusting the speed of the boat. I didn’t know this at the time, that the speed of the boat and length of the cable decided the flying depth of the fish. The odd shout of ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ was heard to come from the team monitoring the images, as they huddled around the monitor, and Robert would duly oblige.

There was great excitement when the first images appeared on the screen of a small debris field and a long straight image. There was speculation that we had in fact found a tree. Disappointed faces suggested maybe we should do another run over the target at a lower depth, and with Robert now down to about 0.7 knots, and the ‘fish’ lower, the ‘tree’ turned into what was obviously a piece of a fuselage with the tail plane intact. So, a number of scans later with the team still huddled over the monitor, we finally came up with the images you see here. The full wing span was intact and lying c. 30m to one side of the fuselage, and had obviously been ripped off during the crash. The gun blisters on the side and the size of the wings clearly defined the image to be that of a Consolidated PBY Catalina that had crashed. This would now make the site a legally protected war grave, and should not be dived without explicit authorisations.

Buoyed with the excitement of our find, we then moved on to the other targets, some of which whilst showing a hard return could not be definitively identified as aircraft and a further linear anomaly that looked like a possible ballast mound. A future survey might help to better clarify the nature of these other intriguing anomalies. By late afternoon we finished up and headed back to base delighted with what had been a brilliant day and a huge success. Furthermore, it was agreed that the CSIG, who made the initial discovery, would print the write up in the IWN, before any official publication of the find would be undertaken by the team at DAERA. Robert and Mike are thrilled with the result and the CSIG wants to explicitly thank them for agreeing that CSIG should first print the details about this really exciting find. Thank you Robert and Mike.

We also want to acknowledge the team from DAERA who provided us with skilled and experienced surveyors along with their equipment, completed all the necessary paperwork, and agreed that we should publish prior to them issuing any report of the discovery.

The images are as follows.

  1. High resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina at a depth of c.45m. Note the gun blisters where a waist gunner would have been stationed. Image courtesy of DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division (Crown Copyright)
  2. High resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina at a depth of c.45m. Note the wing section lying at a distance from the main body of the aircraft. Image courtesy of DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division (Crown Copyright)
  3. Colour picture of the blister gun position on a Consolidated PBY Catalina. Photograph Source Wikipedia
  4. The Lough Erne Surveying Team

From Top Left

Robert Navan CSIG and IWAI, Skipper of Aquarius

Les Saunders CSIG and IWAI

Mike Kingston CSIG and IWAI, Skipper of Escapade

From Bottom Left

Tim Mackie, Surveyor DAERA

Ron Snijder, Surveyor DAERA

Rory McNeary, Marine Archaeologist DAERA/DfC

Sarah Breen, Assistant Producer with Waddell Media Ltd (on assignment for the BBC)

An interesting aside is that I know Tim’s dad and have flown gliders with him many times from Baldonnel and Long Kesh. It sure is a small world.   

Other CSIG news

Members of the core CSIG team are looking at a new format for production of the charts. We hope that this would open up access to another application, OpenCPN, which would have all of the same access to existing apps, offer some additional content, and by using this format would enable Windows and Mac users to take advantage of the 19 zoom levels available to other tablet and smartphone users. It would also reduce Brian’s workload in that a single generation of the charts would cover all users. More on this in the next article if we can make it work.

Also, be aware that the iOS App Galileo, that we use on Apple iPhones and iPads, has changed its name to Guru. If you update your Galileo app it will automatically change the name, and you will not lose your downloaded charts.


Please contact the CSIG at charts-info@iwai.ie if you would like a presentation on the charts at any of your branch meetings, or if you would like to contribute in any way to the CSIG group. You know, it is a very friendly group and we do have great fun doing what we do. Until next time, safe cruising.