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Diving, and Shooting, WWII Shipwrecks
by Becky Kagan, Underwater Videographer/Photojourn

As a photojournalist for Fox news I spend my days with a video camera shooting a range of stories from hurricanes to the tagging of newborn bears. What many of my co-workers don’t know is that I also lead a second life as an experienced technical diver and SCUBA Instructor. I love introducing others to the unique underwater environments very few get to see.

I am also a co-owner of a new underwater production company, Liquid Productions, LLC. Dec. 14, 2007, marked our first release of a Cave diving documentary called “The Mill Pond Experience,” which explores three popular cave systems in Florida. Underwater digital still photography and HD videography is a true passion, art, and business.

Late last year I was introduced to Dan Crowell, a veteran technical diver and experienced underwater videographer. After asking me to be a part of a new TV series he was producing for Discovery’s Military channel we left for Truk Lagoon, Micronesia, in February 2007. Our goal was to capture unique footage of Japanese WWII shipwrecks and also be in the program. This was a new challenge having always been on the opposite side of the camera, but I was definitely up for it and excited for the opportunity!

In February 1944, the U.S. launched a massive air strike (Operation Hailstone) against the Japanese naval air base in Truk. Truk was a major Japanese logistical base as well as the operating "home" base for the Imperial Japanese Navys Combined Fleet. It was important for the U.S. to take control of these islands; if not it could have changed the course of the war. The U.S. attack involved a combination of air strikes, surface ship actions, and submarine attacks over two days, taking the Japanese completely by surprise. Over 45 ships and 250 planes were sunk, making this almost 12 times more destructive than Pearl Harbor. Due to these attacks, Japanese forces on Truk and other central Pacific islands ran low on food, and faced starvation before Japan surrendered in August 1945.

Those two days of devastating air assaults created what is today known as the "Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon.” The ships sunk 63 years ago are still as they were when they patrolled on the surface.The only change is the growth of colorful marine organisms on the wrecks that have softened them, and turned some of the wrecks from a tool of destruction into a thing of beauty.

After 36 long hours of travel between Tampa-Newark-Japan-Guam-Truk, we arrived at the small island in the Pacific. We spent a week shooting these wrecks and what I saw I’ll never forget. We were diving into history, and never imagined seeing 63-year-old materials of war just lying at the bottom of the ocean; virtually undisturbed looking like you could pick them up and use them today. I’ve dived many wrecks in my 13 years but never anything like these.

Some of the highlights were the Fujikawa Maru, which was fairly shallow. You could see the ship just 15 feet below the surface. When I dropped down onto it, huge deck guns came into view with large shells sitting underneath the guns. Each of the five cargo holds had different cargo. One was full of wine bottles, another had 3 Japanese Zero planes parked and ready for battle. We spent over an hour exploring the shipwreck until we found the torpedo hole near the keel. Obvious were the huge chunks of steel blown inwards, the impact that left this great ship docked on the sand.

The other wrecks all held something unique. We spent days documenting and shooting video of torpedoes, huge shells still sitting in carts, trucks, and even human remains deep inside the Hein Maru. We also shot a few planes that included a Betty Bomber and an upside-down Zero. The Better Bomber was so impressive - it did not look at all like this plane had been underwater for 63 years. The radio was removed and sitting on the sand outside of the plane. I could see the dials written in Japanese.

The last day of diving we decided to go deeper and dive the Sanfransisco Maru in over 200 feet of water. We dropped down onto the deck and like so many of the other ships the large deck guns came into view. We moved towards midship and found three small tanks sitting on the deck. These were tiny tanks, and it was hard to believe a couple people fit in there! The ship sat on the bottom the same way it sat at the surface, nothing disturbed, almost as if you could pick it up and put it back into action.

Truk lagoon holds so much WWII history. We visited a lighthouse with some delightful kids playing inside, but on the outside of the lighthouse it said war. There were huge chunks of concrete missing from being shot at. So many relics remain on the island, a difficult place to get to but an experience I’ll never forget. It brought history to life for me, and I hope to go back and experience more.

The show is “Quest for Sunken Warships” which airs on the Military channel. There are four episodes all unique in their own way. By far my favorite was Truk Lagoon, and the amazing shipwrecks we visited will stay in my memory forever. Enjoy the episode and the history that goes along with it.

For me, I hope to do more TV documentaries and shows like “Quest for Sunken Warships.” I’m excited about producing our second Cave diving documentary this February, and planning future diving excursions. In the meantime you can find me at Fox news shooting stories everyday and dreaming of the next exploration at night.

To see Becky’s shows, go to the MILITARY CHANNEL WEB SITE

Becky Kagan is an Underwater Videographer / Photojournalist. She can be reached at (813) 453-4769, Becky@LiquidProductionsLLC.com, http://www.LiquidProductionsLLC.com