Navy Corsair Fighter at Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove State Park, located north of Laguna Beach contains one of the more unique historic features in California. It was acquired in 1979, and as one of 19 state parks which include an underwater component, Crystal Cove is in the process of marking the wreck site of a F4U Corsair, ditched by a Naval Reserve pilot in 1949.
California State Parks called on marine archaeologists and experts from the Midwest in a research mission, to study and map the site of the crash 56 years ago.
The Corsair, famous fighter-bomber, is remarkably well preserved, and deserves protection. Both wings of the plane are largely intact. Although the Pratt/Whiney engine of the fighter was retrieved by the Navy, many artifacts remain. The instrument panel outlets, rudder controls and cockpit wiring are identifiable.
John Foster, senior archaeologist for California State Parks, indicates that there will be an interpretive panel set up for divers to view the site when it is marked as a permanent feature. “Although there were many aircraft accidents along the California coast, this one site is unique,” says Foster, a maritime archaeologist. “This is the only aircraft wreckage to be documented within an underwater park in California."
The crew working with the Indiana University/California State Parks program includes Charles Beeker of Indiana University (IU), Sheli Smith and Annalies Corbin, who operate the PAST Foundation in Ohio; Harley Meier of Goodwin and Associates, a private archaeology firm, and three IU Underwater Research graduate students: Richard Powell, Mikel Esher and Jessica Hoffman.
Underwater photography provides a closeup of the Corsair's wing section.
Only about 90 of the famous planes still exist, but the Corsair’s history is in all the books that record battles of the South Pacific.
John Glenn flew in a Marine squadron which was the first to receive Corsairs. In his autobiography, Glenn gave the Corsair great praise, saying “Flying it once, none of us would have traded it for any other fighter.” Marine squadrons like “Pappy” Boyington’s Black Sheep became legends, showing the excellence of the air-to-air fighter. The Corsair also saw duty in the Korean War.
California’s Underwater Parks preserve the offshore environment, its reef and cultural history. “Our mission in California’s state parks is to preserve and interpret history. That mission does not stop at the water’s edge, it extends offshore as well,” says Ken Kramer, superintendent and head of the Crystal Cove historic preservation area.
About the Corsair at Crystal Cove, one marine archaeologist expert said, “Looking through the empty cockpit of the fallen aircraft is exciting and eerie. It isn’t Titanic, but it’s a giant part of history.”