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The P-38 is a very famous fighter-bomber from the second World War providing for a memorable dive.

Name Dive Site:P-38G-10LO
Depth: 114-124ft (35-38m)
Inserted/Added by: ken, © Author: Channel Islands Dive

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The P-38 (P-38G-10LO), a WWII era Fighter-Bomber was used in every combat theater of the war, was built by Lockheed and had a Length of 37' 16? and a wingspan of 52'. Today there are less than 30 of the 10,000 built. On the morning of May 28, 1943, the pilot took off from the North Island Naval Air station on Coronado Island, San Diego as part of a three ship formation engaged in a low altitude formation dawn patrol and low level attack training flight. Twenty minutes later, the three were flying low (75') above the water north of La Jolla and one and a half miles off shore. It was a nice day with visibility at ten miles and a 1500' ceiling. The group of three began a right turn when, the pilot, on the inside, decided to change his position and drop down and behind. Caught in the prop wash of one of the planes, his P-38 rolled to the right and the right wing tip and engine touched the water. He immediately pulled back on his stick and was able to get the P-38 few feet off the ocean when he realized the prop blades were badly bent and wind milling. He thought he could make it to shore on the left engine and turned east, only to find that his left engine was also damaged and airspeed was now dropping. The pilot now prepared to ditch his plane the best he could by prolonging his glide. He then opened the canopy and braced himself as he pancaked into the water. Once the plane stopped in the water, the pilot quickly jumped out of the cockpit, on to the wing and into the water as his P-38 nosed over and sank.

Meanwhile, the other two pilots continued flying north another eight to ten miles before they noticed the plane was missing. Turning back to retrace their course, they spotted an oil slick on the water and the pilot waving his arms. One of the pilots radioed for assistance and then they both circled overhead for an hour until a Navy crash boat picked up the downed pilot from the water. His only injuries were four minor cuts to his scalp from when the canopy was released.

Some 51 years later in 1995, a Cessna was lost in the area and Dave Miller was hired to locate the plane and its cargo of bank checks. Using side scan sonar, Dave discovered the P-38 and an F-4 Phantom nearby. The P-38 had been a sought after dive for many years and now that the elusive coordinates are out there has been several charter dive boats that take divers to the dive site.

Diving the deep P-38 is a fun and memorable experience, not to mention it is one of a few airplanes that are dive-able in Southern California. The P-38 sits upright on a sandy bottom predominately intact with one of her four 20mm cannons still intact and with ammo still in the magazine. She is a short distance off Torrey Pines State Beach in 130' of water with a relief of only 5'-7' feet and is a short ride from Mission Bay. Despite the number of divers that have visited the wreck, it remains remarkably intact and undisturbed.

More about California wreck diving, please visit the California Wreck Divers (CWD) website along with another excellent resource, the book Shipwrecks of Southern California by Bonnie J. Cardone and Patrick Smith.

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