In November 2008 four World War II planes and six helicopters were sunk off Bang Tao beach in Phuket to create an artificial reef. We went and had a look…
As we were in Phuket after coming back from our Burma liveaboard, my friend Ayesha and I decided to go and investigate the recently sunk WWII planes and helicopters off Bang Tao beach. They are four Douglas C-47 Dakota Skytrain military transport aircraft and six Sikorsky S-58T helicopters. These had been donated by the Royal Thai Airforce and put down to create an artificial reef in November 2008 and to create a new tourist attraction for Bang Tao. They have become known as the Coral Reef Squadron. There’s some great pictures and info of the planes being sunk on the Thai Military Information blog and also on the Tourism Authority of Thailand site.
After dropping another dive buddy off at Phuket Airport, we got the taxi to take us on to Bang Tao beach. It’s about a half hour drive and costs around 600 Baht. Bang Tao beach itself is a very pleasant sandy beach that seems popular with German and Scandinavian tourists. There are a few hotels and restaurants along the beachfront which are also very tourist-orientated i.e. quite pricey with mediocre food.
We turned up without any real idea of what we were doing or who could take us out to dive on the bombers. Fortunately, standing on the beach looking lost soon brought us to the attention of several friendly touts. It turned out one of them was Jub, a divemaster for the Pearl Andaman dive shop. Usually I’m wary of touts, but Jub was the real deal – we headed to his dive shop which was on the main road behind the beach (a minute’s walk) or so and it was easy to organise our own longtail boat out to the bombers. The price was around 3500 Baht I think for 2 dives with weights and tanks – we’d brought all our own gear. There were several other dive shops along the same stretch of road parallel to the beach but we wanted to get on with the diving so didn’t go shopping around.
The staff in Pearl Andaman were great – we needed space to set up our cameras and generally faff about and for these guys nothing was too much trouble – they made organising our trip very stressfree. You can see a photo of Jub outside the Pearl Andaman shop in the gallery above.
Once onto the longtail, it was about a 20 minute ride out to the sunken aircraft. There are four planes arranged in a cross shape, with the four helicopters arranged between them. Guideropes link each of the wrecks to each other underwater, and there are buoys on the surface marking each plane. The wrecks are located at around 22 metres maximum on a slope. The most intact plane (ie it still has its wings) is also the deepest. If I remember correctly, a couple of the other bombers had their wings removed.
When we got ready to go in, the viz looked great – I could the buoyline for at least 10 metres down. Once we got in, we soon realised that there was great viz for the first 10 metres and then it turned into a total peasouper! The viz was down to about one metre. The three of us actually managed to lose each other almost immediately, until we came out of the thermocline and then went back down together paying a little more attention to each other’s location.
Jub was an excellent guide – he knows his way around the wrecks very well and points out the guiderope to make it easy for you to follow him to the next wreck. He was also happy to patiently pose for photos for me and Ayesha, although as you can see from the results I had little luck getting anything decent – I’m just not a good enough photographer yet to be able to deal with so much backscatter-producing muck in the water.
The planes were still suitably evocative, and they are already covered with a layer of silt and becoming home to several schools of fish. The helicopters are perhaps more interesting due to their more open, exposed bodies. although you can go inside both the copters and the bombers.
Despite the viz being so poor on both dives, Ayesha still enjoyed our time on the planes, even if only for the comedy value of trying to take photos in such bad conditions. Jub and the Pearl Andaman team certainly made the experience good fun too – when we went back to the dive shop after the trip, the guys broke down all our dive gear and washed it for us ready for collection when we left the next day. The only hiccup we had was that they told us we could have dived on Nitrox for free – but they didn’t mention this when we signed up for the dives! D’oh!
I’m hoping to get commissioned to write a story about the planes so that we can go back and spend a few days there and next time maybe get some better conditions to get some better pictures – and it will be interesting to see how well the sea reclaims these planes. Apparently there is some controversy about the location of the wrecks as there are strong currents and poor viz in that area generally, which might actually make the planes disintegrate fairly quickly. We’ll have to see.