Side scan sonar image of debris field
Side scan sonar image of the B-36 crash site off Mission Beach, California.

B-36 Discovery

October 2008

Capt. Ray Arntz, John Walker, and myself left Long Beach aboard the
SUNDIVER II for the 80 mile trip south to the waters off MIssion Beach, California. We knew our mission to find the elusive B-36 wouldn't be an easy one. Multibeam bathymetric images of the seafloor in the area showed a very rugged bottom composition with numerous natural reefs that would surely complicate the sonar search. The 474 page accident report only revealed subtle clues as to the whereabouts of the plane. Based on the accident report and the bathymetric imagery, we calculated several areas that we believed would lead us to the final resting place of the lost B-36 bomber. The side scan sonar would have to do the rest.

Multibeam bathymetry off San Diego
Multibeam Bathymetry off San Diego, California
U.S. Geological Survey

Ray deploying the side scan sonar
We arrived in the area in the early afternoon on Day 1 and deployed the side scan sonar.

Towing the side scan towfish
You can see the towfish cable trailing from the A-frame off the stern of SUNDIVER II. We spent the next several hours scanning the area. Sooner than expected we found what looked like a massive debris field on the bottom. We scanned the target from several different directions to confirm it's size and location.

Splashcam underwater camera
We prepared the underwater drop camera to see if we could visually confirm an aircraft wreck. This camera was built specifically to capture the first images of the B-36 Bomber.

John Walker
John Walker directed the drop camera operation from inside the cabin.
The camera's slip-ring reel holds 400 ft of high strength umbilical cable.

First image from the Splashcam
This is the first image recorded by the drop camera.

Electrical wiring
Large amounts of electrical wiring.

Capt. Ray
Capt. Ray positioned the SUNDIVER II over the B-36 wreck site the following morning.

Gary Fabian
Day 2 yielded much better conditions for running the side scan sonar and video camera.

Ray retrieving the towfish
After imaging the wreck again first thing in the morning we retrieved the towfish and lowered
the video camera. We spent much of the day recording video of the wreck site. The following
video still frames show conclusive evidence of B-36 wreckage.

R-4360 engine
Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major R-4360 Radial Engine.

Forward landing gear tires
Two tires and landing gear axle.

20mm cannon
A pair of 20mm cannons.

B-36 canopy frame
Likely a portion of aluminum frame from the nose or cockpit canopy.

Bent propeller
A bent propeller blade.

Propeller hub
An empty propeller hub. A propeller blade is at right.

Another propeller blade
Another propeller blade.

B-36 Main landing gear tire
A single landing gear tire minus its wheel.

Circular opening in skin
A circular opening in the aircraft skin. Likely for crew access or a sighting blister.

B-36 Engine and propeller
Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engine and a bent propeller blade.

Photomosaic of B-36 propeller
Photomosaic of a twisted B-36 propeller blade.

Ray and Gary retrieving the sonar towfish
After we had enough video footage, Ray hauled in the camera and I coiled the umbilical cable
on deck. The footage we recorded clearly shows aircraft features specific to the B-36 and left
us with no doubt that we had found the crash site. We will make plans as soon as possible to
return with the dive team and document the B-36 in greater detail.

Pulling the Splashcam
A view of the drop camera hanging from the electric puller.
The end of a great day. Mission accomplished.