Like all other divers and underwater photographers, Brandi Mueller has always dreamed of making an incredible discovery under the waves. Throughout her career, she has found many magnificent sites, but no underwater treasure or wreck forgotten. As she got older, she began to think that she would never make an emblematic discovery.
Whether it was fate or something else, everything changed during what was supposed to be an ordinary holiday in the Marshall Islands. During a day dive, Ms. Mueller noticed a strange object at the bottom of the water. By diving closer, the young photographer discovered her life: planes abandoned on the seabed! After finding the planes, Mueller discovers the incredible reasons why they were left behind…
The dream of a lifetime
Since her childhood in Wisconsin, Brandi Mueller was obsessed with two things: the ocean and photography. A child, she convinced her family to take several holidays by the sea and, as a teenager, she was on the way to becoming an accomplished diver. “I learned to dive in New Zealand at the age of 15, as part of an exchange program for foreign students,” said Ms. Mueller.
During all these years, the fervent explorer of the oceans has always dreamed of making a major discovery, something that would prove to be historic. She was far from suspecting that this day would come sooner than expected! It all started when she saw a plane at the bottom of the ocean…
A courageous decision
Brandi’s love for diving was so intense that he led her to join the American Coast Guard at the end of high school. Everything seemed to direct him towards what would become the greatest discovery of his life.
While serving his country, Brandi began giving diving lessons, sharing his passion with other people and even learning to fly a boat. “I worked until I became a Divemaster at university and I became a diving instructor right after graduating. Working on boats while giving instructions and guiding, learning to be a captain was done naturally, “she said. However, none of these extraordinary experiences were able to prepare the young woman for what she was going to discover in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
An outstanding photographer
If Mueller’s love for scuba diving seemed to come from nowhere, it was his parents who inspired his passion for photography. In fact, she started her hobby by using her parents’ cameras to take a picture of nature. At the age of 15, Mueller developed a sharp eye. Her incredible diving skills, combined with considerable experience as a photographer, ended up making her a legend among nature photographers.
With many awards to her credit, including National Geographic and Smithsonian awards, Mueller considers herself lucky to be one of those who do what they love to live. However, she always wanted to achieve something unforgettable. And, very quickly, she will succeed!
Stunning dive sites
Thanks to all her incredible experiences, Ms. Mueller has known many fantastic sites where she loved to return again and again. She said: “I love wreck diving, and Chuuk, in Micronesia (formerly known as the Truk Lagoon), was the scene of a huge battle during the Second World War that left many ships, planes and other war objects in the ocean. The warm and healthy waters of Micronesia have transformed these ancient ships of destruction into “ship reefs” covered with pretty soft corals teeming with fish and other forms of marine life”.
However, Mueller’s most important discovery did not occur in one of these incredible places. On the contrary, the diver came across her discovery by chance while she was far from the usual holiday destinations…
Take free time
After teaching and working as a member of the Coast Guard for a decade, Brandi Mueller, 31, took a well-deserved vacation. Instead of visiting one of her favorite dive sites, she decided to return to a beautiful place she had only visited once before: The Marshall Islands. For those who do not know, the Marshall Islands are a long and thin strip of islands located approximately halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines.
The first days, Mueller did all the typical dives of the Marshall Islands. Then, she decided to leave with a friend to discover a new diving site she had heard about, about eight kilometers from the island of Roi-Namu, a site unknown to all except a few divers…
Where few people had dived before
If you have never been there, the Marshall Islands are of surreal beauty. In addition to this, they are home to some of the most incredible dive sites in the world, including several wrecks and reefs full of ocean life. It’s not surprising that Mueller loved diving into it!
However, the site that Mueller was exploring the day in question had only been visited by a few divers before her. At first, everything happens normally. However, it was then that Mueller saw a strange and massive shape appear in the blue mist of the water below it…
Something in the depths
As you can imagine, when Mueller first spotted the massive forms under her, she couldn’t help but feel a shiver of fear and excitement. On the one hand, it could be the discovery she had always dreamed of! Of course, another part of Mueller couldn’t help thinking about horror films like Les Dents de la mer or Abysses. Nevertheless, convinced that she had found something, she swam closer.
As he approached the objects, Mueller saw that they were beginning to take shape. She has spotted large flat metal parts that detach from larger steel tubes. What could these strange objects be?
Take a closer look
As Mueller swam closer to the mysterious object, she took a short break. In her wonder, the diver had forgotten to prepare her camera! But after a few seconds, Mueller was ready to take pictures of what she had found at the bottom of the Pacific and continued to swim. In doing so, she heard herself breathing loudly through her diving equipment, excited by her new discovery…
Arriving on the object, Mueller noticed that the metal parts were not completely empty. On the contrary, they seemed to have colorful emblems painted on them. The young photographer had no idea that she was about to make one of the greatest underwater discoveries of all time!
An incredible discovery
As Brandi Mueller approached and looked at the paintings on the metal, she realized that the thing she was looking at was actually a plane! On a closer look, the woman was able to see that the plane was quite old. However, Mueller had no idea of his exact age. As she dived, even more important questions came to her mind: why had someone left a plane here? And why hadn’t anyone found it before?
While Mueller knew that she had made the discovery of her life, she had no idea that the first plane was only the beginning. What she would then find would make Mueller one of the biggest names in underwater exploration!
A 70-year-old cemetery?
As Mueller revolved around the plane, another form appeared. It was another plane! Then, while she was swimming towards this one, another one appeared! There were hundreds of them. While she had always dreamed of finding an undiscovered wreck, she had never imagined finding an entire underwater aircraft cemetery!
Mueller was stunned to have come across such a discovery. That’s why she immediately started taking photos. “They now call it the airplane cemetery,” she later told MailOnline. As she continued to explore the site, she realized that these planes had something strange…
Exploration of the wreck
As Mueller photographed and explored the wrecks, she wondered more and more how the planes had arrived here. For her, it seemed that they came from the Second World War, the Korean War or the Vietnam War? But whatever the war, how did they land here? It seemed strange that they were all shot, so close to each other.
At the same time, another thing struck Mueller: there was no human remains in the planes, whatever it was. If they had been shot, the woman expected to find something, anything. Another thing also struck Mueller: why were all these planes in perfect condition?
An impeccable condition
As Mueller continued to take pictures and find other planes, she noticed something interesting. Despite the rust and bernacles, the planes were in fact in fairly good condition. In fact, many of them were completely intact, with only minor scratches and scratches on the bodies. There were no bullet holes, no twisted metal, and no deformed fuselages.
“They should have stolen more, lived longer, but they were sunk in perfect condition,” Ms. Mueller told the Daily Mail. While she could not understand why someone would have thrown planes in perfect condition, Mueller loved the way marine life had completely taken control of the planes. Judging by marine life, these planes had been there for some time. But how much time exactly would surprise everyone, even the most brilliant historians…
A place for a beautiful and dynamic ocean life
Strange photos like the one below show how marine life has taken over planes. In fact, in a blurred photo, Mueller captured a school of fish that settled like at home in a rusty cockpit. “The ocean is amazing and resilient. It is a vital force that we will probably never fully understand, “she said.
“Seeing how he can take huge pieces of metal and develop life on this metal is quite amazing,” she continued. She was surprised to see that each aircraft had its own ecosystem and marine life around it. As Mueller took pictures and found other planes, she discovered that she was not looking at a cemetery at all…
A dangerous process
If the photos may seem dreamlike and peaceful, their capture was in fact quite dangerous, given their delicate nature. Fortunately, Mueller is not an amateur! An explorer of more than 50 countries, she had the necessary experience to tackle the task. However, after discovering plane after plane, Mueller could not help but feel a surreal feeling, as if she were in a dream.
Some of the planes were covered with sand at the bottom of the ocean, and almost looked like a shark. Others were standing straight on their noses! Finally, Mueller reached the end of the cemetery and could not believe his final count…
More than 100 planes
Mueller continued to explore the site, despairing to find evidence that could help surface historians. Yet, as incredible as the images are, the woman did not feel comfortable diving on planes. “Seeing planes underwater is strange, planes have no place in the water, they have their place in the sky, so it’s weird to dive on them. But it’s also surprising and special,” she remembers.
By the end of the day, Mueller had discovered 150 planes in the underwater cemetery. Although she loved the images she took, the diver did not think they would be of great use to historians. She was very wrong!
As Brandi Mueller came to the surface with her incredible images, she was eager to see the world’s reaction to her discovery. However, as she brought her boat back to the dock, a question crept into the woman’s mind: did she have to share her discovery before knowing what she had found? What if it was in trouble for him? Ms. Mueller therefore decided to do some research before uploading her photos to the Internet.
Looking at the photos, Mueller began to think more and more that the planes came from the Second World War. They simply did not look like the planes of the Korean or Vietnam War. And when she began to take an interest in the Second World War, Ms. Mueller quickly realized that she had found what historians had been looking for for decades!
The information she needed
Although he had to dig a little, Mueller eventually discovered that Marshall Island had been the dump of the American army after the Second World War! In addition, archaeologists and historians have searched for the exact places where the army got rid of large quantities of planes!
The more Mueller researched, the more interesting information she discovered. For example, most Americans know nothing about Operation Rollup, which took place just after the Second World War. It turns out that this is the solution to explain the underwater aircraft cemetery! Mueller leaned closer to her computer, because she realized that she would finally have the answers she wanted…
The Rollup operation
As Mueller learned, Operation Rollup was the way the American army ” treated” vehicles such as tanks, planes and jeeps that had crossed the Pacific during the Second World War. You see, it was quite logical for the government to pay the bill to send these vehicles to battle. However, it would cost even more to return planes, tanks and other vehicles across the Pacific!
So, surprisingly, the strategy sometimes consisted of simply throwing tanks and planes into the Pacific and letting them sink to the bottom of the ocean. This is why the planes were in such good condition – they were never even used!
Millions of dollars wasted
Believe it or not, it’s as simple as it seems. After the trip, the navy loaded the vehicles on an aircraft carrier and, using forklifts, pushed them into the ocean. The coral-covered metal pile is now called Million Dollar Point, because of the impressive amount of waste resulting from this act. However, most people still call the place the “aircraft cemetery”.
Like many others, Mueller was certainly annoyed by the level of waste on the site. The government could at least have turned them into scrap! He could even have donated it to the Marshall Islands, which remain one of the poorest regions in the world. Unfortunately, the story did not go like this…
70 years old
After remaining underwater for more than 70 years, the planes deteriorated, becoming the habitat of a beautiful and vibrant ocean life. Their metal surfaces have turned into living and colorful statues. So you understand why Mueller wanted to capture the beauty of submerged planes before it was too late – or before others spoiled it!
“They have been underwater for more than seventy years now and are starting to deteriorate, so I feel like I’m documenting them as they change. After a while, there will be nothing left of them, “said Mr. Mueller. “The ocean is amazing and resilient. This is a vital force that we will probably never fully understand.” Fortunately, thanks to the incredible photos of the woman, historians quickly identified underwater aircraft.
The lagoon of the Kwajalein atoll, where the aircraft cemetery is located, is the resting place of a huge concentration of Japanese and American wrecks of the Second World War, including more than 25 ships and more than 160 aircraft. Among the planes that Mueller found, there was an F4U Corsair, which landed on its nose in the sand and remained standing for years, as can be seen below.
During his dive, Mueller captured other allied aircraft, including Helldivers, B-25 Mitchell, Curtiss C-46 Commando and F4F Wildcats. The aircraft cemetery also houses the historic American aircraft Douglas SBD Dauntless, a dive bomber that was thought to be lost!
The Douglas SBD
Among the aircraft that Mueller found is the Douglas SBD Dauntless, which was only manufactured for four years, from 1940 to 1944. For those who do not know, this aircraft is famous for having dealt the fatal blow to Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War. After the war, most of the Dauntless disappeared or broke down. Finding another one is therefore always a pleasure for aviation enthusiasts!