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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Franco Banfi

Nov14

Finds of World War II preserved in the depths of the sea

By Franco Banfi, Monday November 14, 2016
The nose of the Catalina seaplane which sunk on 12 September 1944, off the coast of Vis island, Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/30sec at f/8, ISO 1250.

The nose of the Catalina seaplane which sunk on 12 September 1944, off the coast of Vis island, Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/30sec at f/8, ISO 1250. © Franco Banfi

Plunged into the silent oblivion of the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Vis island, Lorenz Marovic and his son Andy found the remains of two US Air Force aircraft and the wreck of steamship N. Maris which had sunk in 1932. With a huge amount of patience and effort, they collected the reports told by elderly contacts and studied the nautical maps for months before setting up the research. They equipped their boat with a heavy, powerful and extremely detailed side-scan sonar, and then started to scan the bottom of the Adriatic Sea, in areas known by the fishermen. One day, the sonar gave evidence of something resting on the bottom of the sea, and the second part of the research then started by planning a few technical dives to verify the outcomes.

I organised a special expedition of professional divers and technicians, with the aim to document with my pictures these unbelievable discoveries. Tom Baier, three other tech divers, and myself met together to plan the dives in detail. Due to the relevant depth - between 60 and 110 metres - we chose to dive with close circuit rebreathers and bailout tanks, filled with a different mix of gases (helium, nitrogen and oxygen). These set-ups allowed us to stay underwater for a longer time, with the necessary safety and to collect as much information as possible to document and recognise the wrecks.

The first day we dived at the site where we saw signals of one aircraft’s remains, resting on the bottom at 95 metres. One part of the preparation concerned the dive itself, another part concerned the photographic issues. Taking pictures at 95 metres underwater is not an easy task; not for the gear, not for any photographers, who have to be endowed with huge knowledge about technical diving and about photography. At 95 metres in depth, everything bears 10.5 bars of water pressure: there is no time to lose in attempting several settings.

The underwater photographer must have a deep knowledge of the rules of photography, together with a deep knowledge of the diving and the diving gear. With a bottom time of only 25 minutes, we did a single dive of 166 minutes, with at least 130 minutes of decompression stops at different depths, in order to de-saturate our body tissue.

And the results of this dive are what you can see in these photographs, depicting the wreck of a Catalina seaplane, sunk on 12 September 1944 in an attempt to rescue five survivors from a very rough sea. Despite high swells and a strong wind, the captain of the airpraft succeeded in an open sea landing and took on board the survivors, but the aircraft could not take off. It began to fill with water and was abandoned.

The left side of the hull showing the main landing gear. The tyre is still in place. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/30sec at f/10, ISO 1250.

The left side of the hull showing the main landing gear. The tyre is still in place. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/30sec at f/10, ISO 1250. © Franco Banfi

Coral-covered railing on the starboard of the steamship N. Maris, which sunk in 1932, off the coast of Vis island, Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/60sec at f/8, ISO 640.

Coral-covered railing on the starboard of the steamship N. Maris, which sunk in 1932, off the coast of Vis island, Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens inside a Seacam underwater housing with two Seaflash 150 strobes; the exposure was 1/60sec at f/8, ISO 640. © Franco Banfi