Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii – November 29, 2023
In a delicate operation off the shores of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, the U.S. Navy announced on Monday that it has successfully removed nearly all the fuel from a large plane that overshot a runway and now rests on a reef.
The incident occurred on November 20, and Rear Adm. Kevin Lenox provided an update, stating that approximately 2,000 gallons (7,500 liters) of fuel were extracted from the stranded P-8A aircraft.
Lenox emphasized that the fuel removal process was executed without any incidents, ensuring that no fuel was released into the environmentally sensitive bay. The successful extraction serves to minimize risks associated with the ongoing salvage operation.
The aircraft, which landed in shallow water just offshore of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, had nine occupants, all of whom escaped without injury.
The P-8A plane is currently positioned on a mixture of coral and sand, with the left engine resting on coral. Cmdr. Mark Anderson, leading the Navy’s mobile diving and salvage unit at the site, noted that the plane rises slightly with the tide, preventing its full weight from exerting pressure on the coral.
Despite the potential for minor coral damage, Anderson stated that there were no indications of “massive chunks missing.” The immediate focus remains on stabilizing the aircraft and formulating a plan for its removal.
Kaneohe Bay, known for its coral reefs, ancient Hawaiian fishpond, and hammerhead shark breeding grounds, necessitates a cautious approach to minimize environmental impact. State environmental officials plan to conduct a damage assessment once the plane is successfully removed.
Lenox outlined two potential options for relocating the aircraft. The first involves floating the plane within reach of a crane on the runway, where it would be lifted and placed on its landing gear.
The second option proposes floating the plane on cylinders and rolling it onto the runway. Throughout the process, the Navy emphasizes three priorities: the safety of the salvage crew, environmental protection, and preserving the aircraft’s capability.
To prevent potential fuel spills or contamination, the Navy has deployed three temporary floating barriers around the stranded P-8A. As a precautionary measure, material has been placed around the aircraft to absorb pollutants, with a skimmer on standby for rapid response.
Addressing community concerns, Lenox acknowledged the Navy’s recent environmental challenges in Hawaii, particularly a 2021 fuel leak into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water. He reassured the public of transparency, citing the state of Hawaii’s on-scene commander’s observation of the fuel removal process and the installation of an additional protective barrier at their request.
The Navy utilizes P-8A planes, manufactured by Boeing and serving as military versions of the 737 passenger jet, for submarine searches, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The stranded plane is assigned to Patrol Squadron 4 at Whidbey Island in Washington state, with another P-8A dispatched from Washington to fulfill patrol duties in Hawaii during the ongoing incident response.