The last time the Grumman F6F Hellcats featured in the video above were seen, they were streaking through the skies over Hawaii. Incredibly effective warplanes, they were credited with 75 percent of the American air victories in the Pacific theater during World War II. And now, about 300 of them rest on the floor of the Pacific Ocean in the Hawaiian Island archipelago.
NOAA’s Hawaii Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is in the process of documenting the final resting places of these discarded aircraft, and what they’re finding is wonderful. Planes originally built for war are finding a second use as artificial reefs that countless living organisms now call home. Chalk it up to the persistence of life and the passage of time.
In the video, we follow a crew exploring the wreckage on the floor of Mā’alaea Bay off of the island of Maui. Using high-tech cameras from their partners XL Catlin Seaview, the team has taken 360-degree images that they plan to share with the public in the form of an underwater virtual tour on the sanctuary’s website. Their hope is that everyone will see what the sanctuary staff has come to understand: the Hellcats resting on the ocean floor are more than just rusting relics of a war—they’re underappreciated treasures.