Brandi Mueller of Cameron, Wisconsin is something of a diving expert. That, coupled with her keen photographic eye and her ability to capture previously unseen underwater worlds, has made her a legend among nature photographers the world over.
In 2015, while diving in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific Ocean, Brandi discovered something that was never supposed to be uncovered, and it would shed new light on a worldwide event that very nearly destroyed the world…
Featured Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org
Underwater photographer, Brandi Mueller has been scuba diving since the tender age of 15. As a child, Brandi became fascinated with nature and spent her time borrowing her parent’s camera to take pictures of plants and animals in her backyard. By the time she had reached her early teens, she’d actually gotten quite good.
She decided that she wanted to spend her life diving and photographing the amazing world around her. This eventually led her to join the Coast Guard, which afforded her a number of opportunities to scuba dive professionally. She became so adept at it, that she started to teach dive classes…
Today, the 31-year-old has taken pictures underwater in a number of exotic locales, from Hawaii to Australia, the Caribbean, Iceland, Africa, and many more. One of her most favorite places, however, is a sprawling strip of islands nestled between Hawaii and the Philippines, known as the Marshall Islands.
A few years back, Brandi was scuba diving about five miles offshore of the island of Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands, when she discovered something incredible lying beneath the waves. Something that had been lying in wait for over 70 years…
The seabed was covered in a plethora of large, metallic junk. Huge flat plates of oxidized steel hung off large, cylindrical tubes and sheets of broken glass stuck out of the sand. It wasn’t until Brandi swam a bit closer and saw the colorful emblems emblazoned on the steel that she realized what she was looking at.
The ocean floor was festooned with rusted, broken airplanes. It was a veritable “Airplane Graveyard.” But where did they all come from? Had the planes been shot down during World War 2? Were they the remains of a once-mighty fleet, rendered into scrap after a brutal sea battle? The answer to those questions was as surprising as the discovery itself…
Despite the rust, coral, and barnacles amassing on their metal hulls, the planes were in amazingly pristine condition. Amazingly, many of the planes had remained completely intact, and only a few had suffered broken tails, wings, or shattered cockpits. But Brandi could find no evidence of human remains anywhere.
Not a Single Grave
As it turned out, this “graveyard” was anything but. These weren’t planes that had crashed during the war at all but rather the aircraft that remained after the war was over and dumped, unceremoniously into the ocean. It explained why almost all of the planes were still in very good condition but not why they were dumped…
Diving for Airplanes
After that, Brandi returned again and again. She wanted to learn more about why they had decided to dump all the planes into the ocean at the end of World War Two. “For me, diving on airplanes, especially World War Two airplanes is really unique,” she said of the experience. “Diving on shipwrecks seems normal, you expect ships to have sunk…but not planes.”
As she swam around the wreckage, she soon discovered that more than 150 different planes were spread out on the ocean floor, 130 feet from the surface. She began work on a series of incredible photographs of this eerie, underwater scene. It became one of her most intense and difficult projects…
A Strange Sight
Seeing planes underwater is a strange sight indeed. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition: a vehicle that is most commonly found in the sky now deep beneath the water. According to Brandi, “It feels weird to dive on them. But amazing and special too.”
As she swam, she began to accumulate stunning images of planes surrounded by coral and fish. Some of them lie at odd angles, jutting vertically out of the sand or sitting on the ocean floor as if they were about to take off. Brandi’s pictures were the first opportunity the world had to see the missing planes in over seven decades…
The plane graveyard includes many models of historic American aircraft, including: Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, F4U Corsairs, and TBF/TBM Avengers. After a little research, she discovered the reason for the Dauntlesses being dumped. Apparently, the Dauntless model was replaced by the much faster Curtiss SB2C Helldiver in the early 1940s.
A Sad Memorial
Despite the beauty of the scenes, there is a pervasive sadness here. It is a reminder of the wastefulness and lack of understanding of our 20th century relatives that rather than recycle the metal from the obsolete aircraft, they chose to dump them into a watery grave. The Marshall Islands, as it turned out, were a perfect place to do so…
Battle of Midway
The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 had crippled much of the American Fleet but did nothing to slow America’s determination to take the Pacific and defeat the Axis powers. The battle of Midway that followed was one of the defining battles in World War Two.
The planes would have arrived in the Marshall Islands on the back of aircraft carriers headed for Japan. The Pacific Theater of WWII was full of brutal naval skirmishes between the US and Japanese forces. It was up to the American pilots to try and turn the tide of the war in their favor….
A whopping 50,000 members of the US armed forces took part in the battle to take the Marshall Islands from Japan. The assumption was that they could strike at Guam from those strategic islands and then eventually get to the Japanese mainland to take the Axis head on. The Japanese had other plans.
Even as the plucky American Navy mounted a comeback, the Japanese military continued conquering island after island in the South Pacific. Still, as the war raged on, the Japanese began to suffer huge reversals. The Allies were making a comeback…
One by one, the islands fell under Allied control. The island foothold helped the US gain an offensive advantage. Indeed, if America hadn’t dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and forced Japan’s surrender with the subsequent bombing of Nagasaki, the tactical advantage in the Pacific would have eventually led to them winning the war.
After the war ended in 1945, the excess planes were dumped into the ocean, and they would have remained there, lost on the ocean floor for all time, if not for the cunning observation and keen photographic skills of Brandi Mueller. Her discovery has made it possible for people to view a world that they never would have been able to see otherwise.