Diver in quest to recover remains from warplane as Aug. 15 looms
By MIHO KATO/ Staff WriterNISHINOOMOTE, Kagoshima Prefecture--A sunken wartime Japanese aircraft that lies off the southern coast of Kyushu could contain the remains of its crew, says a diver who has been exploring the site since 2015.
Tetsuro Hayashi, a diving shop operator here on Tanegashima island, is on a mission to retrieve the remains and return them to their families ahead of the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Hayashi, 71, learned about an aircraft probably resting off the island from a local fisherman in 2000, but could not start diving on the site until years later. Strong tides provide only a one-hour window each day to do so.
Also, the depth of 18 meters restricts dives to just 20 minutes or so, leaving little time to explore.
The prospect that the crew members died in the crash prompted Hayashi to contact the welfare ministry, which is in charge of collecting the remains of the nation's war dead both in Japan and overseas.
A ministry official met with Hayashi in late June to learn more about his search and inspect components recovered from the plane wreckage.
The site is about 300 meters off Cape Kishigazaki at the northern tip of Tanegashima island, which lies between Kyushu and Okinawa Prefecture.
Hayashi said the aircraft appears to be a Type 97 carrier attack bomber used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
During his second dive in June 2015, Hayashi and his three colleagues spotted a wheel and a wing buried in white sand on the seabed. The dive team has concentrated on digging into the sand around the wreck to uncover the rest of the aircraft.
On their 12th dive last November, Hayashi and his colleagues made it to the cockpit.
Hayashi decided the plane must have gone down with its crew members aboard, so he consulted city government officials and requested the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in March to research the matter.
The ministry has designated the period through fiscal 2024, the year before the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II, as one for intensive efforts to collect the remains of Japan's war dead.
“We will discuss, on the basis of findings from the visit to the site, whether our ministry will do its own research on the site,” said a ministry official.
Hayashi said the Type 97 carrier attack bomber took part in Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Officials of the Nishinoomote city government and other sources noted that the aircraft was also used in kamikaze attacks during the waning days of the Pacific War.
They made sorties from the Kushira naval air base in today’s Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture, to stage suicide attacks off Okinawa, the sources said.
There is a video of one of the dives on UTube, here.