OHE December 19, 1999 (Kuliouou airplane search)

Date: Sun, 19 Dec 1999 03:49:15 -1000
From: James R Pushaw (jrpushaw@juno.com>
Subject: Kuliouou plane wreckage

After being shown the airplane wreckage near the top of the left Kuliouou ridge two weeks ago on our Sunday HTMC trail clearing, I was intrigued to learn more. Not only about what had happened to the plane, but to revisit the site at a later time. Thomas Yoza and I actually spent quite a bit of time there, digging and retrieving various "junk."

Just finding ANY kind of information turned out to be difficult. After many phone calls, I finally found someone at the U.S. Coast Guard who had some information. He gave me location coordinates, as well as the type of plane that it was. Turns out that the plane was a Navy Scout Bomber (SB2), circa the 1930's. From an article given to me by a co-worker: "the SB2U was the Navy's first monoplane bomber, reporting to the fleet...in December 1937." From another article we know that the length was 33' 11 3/4" with the wing span of 42'. The most intriguing bit of information for me from the USCG, however, was the fact that there was another plane that crashed in Kuliouou, this time a B25 bomber, also from that same era, but it crashed on the right ridge. Last week was my planned trip to see both, but with all the rain, I had to cancel. So with the weather looking much better, yesterday was the day to go.

To take advantage of all possible daylight hours, I left home at 6:15 a.m. Believe me, it was weird driving to a hike while it was still dark. In order to make a minimal "commotion" in the Kuliouou neighborhood at such an early time, I stopped at the Aina Haina Shopping Center to get my pack ready, boots on, etc. (My pack weighed in at 25 pounds, due to additional items such as a shovel, a rope, our video camera and a few tools.)

My plan was to go search for the B25 first, which, as I said, was located somewhere on the right Kuliouou ridge. After signing in at the hikers/hunters log box at 7 a.m., I headed into the valley, the sun just beginning to show on the tops of the left ridge. As Dayle Turner described in his write-up of his hike, the day was relatively windless, but that was offset by the coolness of the morning. Turning right at the old fence line where we had come down 2 weeks ago, I immediately began to bring the body temperature up. Reaching the ridgeline, the trail goes left until it rejoins the State trail. Then passing a camp of Boy Scouts putting out a morning fire, I proceeded to the spot where I thought the bomber wreckage might be. The topo map that I had marked showed that the plane crashed on a side ridge some 200 feet below the main ridge. Looking down, I immediately spotted some shiny purple ribbons. Could it be this simple? Had someone already marked the way to the plane? I had visions of a very early find. But going down to the level that I thought it might be, I found nothing.

Thinking then that I may have the wrong side ridge, I contoured makai, following excellent pig trails (I fully agreee that there are far too many, but you gotta hand it to them, they know how to get from Point A to Point B). However, they are a bit shorter than us humans, so I found myself climbing over or crashing through a lot of dead branches, etc. Not finding anything, I then backtracked, going mauka until I had covered 3 side ridges and the valleys between each of them. Nothing! I decided to get on to the second site and look for the B25 another time.

By the way, anybody have any info about the whereabouts of the B25?

In order to get to the SB2, I had to drop down to the valley trail, so I started down the side ridge that I was on. There was no trail and it ended abruptly in a drop off. Heading makai again on the pig trails, I again ran into the purple ribbons. I followed them down to the State's valley trail, doing a little clearing here and there. Not a bad trail, by the way. It starts near the beginning of the Norfolk Pines on the Kuliouou trail and there are ribbons all the way down.

The Kuliouou Valley trail gradually fades out of sight, forcing you into the wide stream bed with a lot of rock hopping now necessary. My next objective was a side waterfall/chute which I read about in previous OHE postings by Dayle Turner and Kirby Young. As I stepped on a rock between two boulders, I had a slight mishap. Evidently the rock was just barely held in place over a deep, hollow area because it immediately dropped out of view as I stepped on it, and down went my leg between the boulders. Trying to catch my fall with my left hand, my left thumb was bent back under my full weight. Ouch. I sat there for quite a while thinking about whether I should turn back or keep going. But, I reasoned: 1) it was only 10:30 in the morning, 2) I felt like I was close to finding my turnoff and 3) I was just plain curious to see more of the plane from 2 weeks ago. So off I went. Sure enough, less than 100 feet ahead on the left was the stream chute leading up to the trail. There was no ribbon at the junction with the main stream, but a pink ribbon was tied to a tree on the right side further up.

The trip up was just as was posted earlier by Dayle and Kirby, with plenty of handholds, trees, etc. with some spectacular open areas. Upon nearing the SB2, I tried to find a way to get to the small gully/slide area directly below the cliff where the wreckage lay. (A piece was clearly visible to Thomas and I two weeks ago, far below, but we never went down to check it out.) After a couple of looks over the edge, I found the right spot to make a short contour trail through the four foot tall uluhe and near some small trees. After the end of the uluhe is just tall, piled grass which made it easy to push through.

I found a curious piece that, upon looking at pictures when I returned home, turns out to be the pointed tail section. Also found were a blue painted wing section, a piece that looked like a part of the engine, and a piece with "WING LOCK CONTROL" printed on it. (These planes were from aircraft carriers, so they had folding wings.) Retracing my steps, I next went up to the bulk of the wreckage higher up. The more I dug, the more I found. No instrument panel or body of the plane was there, mostly wings and landing gear - the strongest parts. Don't know where the rest of the wreckage is.

It was now 2:00 so I decided to head for home. My car was located at the end of the State trail, so I climbed up to the left Kuliouou ridge trail and crossed over along the summit to the right Kuliouou trail. Because the winds were very light and coming from the Kuliouou side, the windward side was completely in "white-out" conditions while the entire summit and leeward side were hot and sunny. I paused at the official end of the Kuliouou trail to phone home and then followed the State trail down, finishing my trek by going down the direct fenceline trail. I reached the hiker/hunter box at 4:30, ending a great exploring day.

Jim Pushaw

Reply From: Wing C Ng

Today, at the Club hike, two haole were at the site digging, from 10:30 when I saw them from the right ridge, until like 2:00 pm when I got to that spot. Thinking they were Club hikers, I yelled "are you going down that ridge". They said they are digging the plane site. I went down to take a look. They have unearthed a propeller blade and something that looks like an instrument. They jokingly asked me to sell them my ice-axe (they have shovels but no picks).

BTW I used the ice-axe to dig footholds at that steep dirt approach to Puu o Kona, and I also installed a $5 rope. The creep who vandalized ropes will probably come back and vandaliize it again, and that's why I picked the cheapest rope I have in my closet. If I catch the creep, I shall bring criminal charges against him, attempted murder, at least reckless endangerment. I can also bring civil suit for his steeling my ropes! I installed two ropes there previously.


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