Aircraft Wrecks of Gran Canaria
For over a year, I had been looking forward to a very special expedition that was planned for May 2014. But as you know, life does not always go the way you plan. The expedition was postponed, and once again, I had to find an alternative, at relatively short notice.
After getting some interesting offers in March 2014, I met a rebreather diver from Gran Canaria at the Dive and Travel Show in Madrid. He suggested that I come to Gran Canaria for wreck diving. At first, I was not particularly interested, because I really wanted to do some nice wreck dives, and the Canary Islands were not necessarily known for their wealth of wrecks. I had been to Lanzarote a few times, but I had never seen any interesting wrecks there. On the contrary, I was told again and again that there were no wrecks anywhere on the Canary Islands.
When I mentioned this to my Canarian friend, he just laughed. "Come and see what we have! You will not regret it."
Over the next few weeks, he kept sending me links to videos of some offshore wrecks, which his dive group had taken. Among them was a video of an airplane wreck, a Douglas C-47. The wreck looked really interesting, and supposedly, there were even more aircraft wrecks. This was certainly not an everyday occurrence, and I decided to fly to Gran Canaria for a wreck dive.
Diving and tech support
The starting point for our dives was the beach of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is located south of Gran Canaria and is thus, most months of the year, quite sheltered from the wind. This, and the fact that the majority of the wrecks can be reached within 15 to 20 minutes by RIB, made it possible to dive a wreck almost every day.
The wrecks, which are approached from Puerto Rico, lie in depth ranges between 60 and 65m. For rebreather divers, 3-liter bottles were provided for diluent and oxygen and bailout bottles. As a diluent, there was usually a trimix 10/50. Bailout mixtures were trimix 18/38, nitrox 50 and 100% oxygen. Team bailout was not permitted.
Our basic times were between 25 and 35 minutes, with the total dive time mostly in the range of 90 minutes. We dived in buddy teams. There were no fixed lines at the wrecks. We used the anchor rope as our ascent and descent line. Under the boat hung four decompression lines to a depth of about 16m. When all the divers were on these lines, the anchor was hoisted, and we drifted with the current.
The support and help we received at the base and on the boat were unique. The loading and unloading of the boat was done by the base team. They even carried my rebreather to the boat and back. Over the week we spent diving, we felt like friends—not like customers on a base. And that is exactly what our host wanted.
Location. The Douglas is about five nautical miles off the harbor of Puerto Escala. By boat, the trip to the dive site takes about 15 minutes. The maximum depth is 65m.
History. On 2 October 1973, the Douglas took off at 10:10 a.m. from the Las Palmas airport for a test flight. At an altitude of 4,500 feet, the engines were to be tested. The pilot switched off all engines one after the other and started them again. After a few attempts, the left engine could no longer be ignited. The pilot, Tomas Adin, decided to make an emergency landing on the water. The landing took place at 11:00 a.m. off the coast of Arguineguín. The crew of the Douglas—consisting of the pilot, co-pilot, mechanic and radio operator—survived the ditching. They were brought ashore by fishermen. The plane stayed on the surface for about 10 minutes before it sank.
Diving. Depending on where the anchor was placed, we floated on the descent, directly over the old machine. The visibility was very good, so the wreck could be admired as a whole. First, I got the impression that the Douglas was just parked on the bottom of the sea. It seemed almost completely intact. Only when I looked closely could I see that the nose of the aircraft and the cockpit were dented. On the hull, some of the outer surface panels were missing. This made for interesting lighting conditions inside the machine. The hatches were open, and it was safe to enter the wreck.
The Douglas was not a big wreck. Nevertheless, there was much to discover. We made two dives there, in impressive light and visibility conditions.
Location. The Texan wreck lies at 63m. It is rarely dived because it lies in the channel between Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are often very strong current and high waves. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
History. On 30 September 1974, Captain Antonio Conde Lorenzo undertook a training flight with Commander Martinez. They started at 9:15 a.m. from Gando Airport, along with two other T-6s. There was radio contact between the pilot and flight control. After completing their exercises at 4,500 feet, the plane made a right turn, lost altitude and crashed into the sea for unknown reasons. Captain Lorenzo died in the crash. Commander Martinez survived and swam to shore.
Diving. Our dive was perfectly organized. There were light waves, only minimal current, great light and visibility, and the anchor lay directly behind the wreck. We were the only three divers this time.
The Texan is in very good condition. On the left wing, one can still admire the machine gun. The wreck is full of life and colorfully overgrown. To me, the dive clearly belongs in the category of "dives you never forget."
Location. The PIO 12 was probably a high sea trawler. The wreck lies at 65m depth. The dive site can be reached by inflatable boat within 10 minutes.
Diving. At first, we did not notice much about the wreck on our dive, because it was completely enclosed by a huge school of fish. The wreck itself was pretty much destroyed, but it was still worth the dive. There were countless moray eels living on this wreck. Since the PIO 12 is not often dived, many details about it are yet to be discovered.
The Lead Wreck
Nobody knows the true name of this wreck, not even when and why it went down. It was given the name “Lead Wreck” because when it was discovered by our dive guide, Dirk, the wreck was overhung, layer upon layer, with nets. Dirk said he collected about 500 to 600kg of lead weights that had hung on the nets, which he salvaged from the wreckage.
Location. This wreck is located about 15 minutes from the port at a depth of about 60m.
Diving. The hull was almost completely disintegrated. Nevertheless, there were many details to admire: big winches, masts with crow's nests and much more. The most impressive thing for me was a huge amphora, completely undamaged and unopened, lying between the remains of the wreckage. It was a very interesting dive with good light and visibility.
Gran Canaria has more submerged wrecks on other shores. Many of these wrecks can only be dived in favorable wind conditions. But it is not easy to find a dive operation that services these dive sites. Unfortunately, the owner of the base with whom we worked together has since passed on the management of the dive operation. ■
See a video about the wrecks we dived at: https://vimeo.com/96911469.
Sabine Kerkau is a German technical diver, dive writer and underwater photographer based in Switzerland. For more information, please visit: Sabine-Kerkau.com.
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X-Ray Mag #86
Destinations: Christmas Island, Dumaguete, Scotland, Mozambique⏐ Main topics: PFO, Japanese Salamanders, Dive Planning, Black and White Photography