USS New York – Subic Bay’s Deadliest Shipwreck.
Above Photo: Guns on the deck of the USS New York loom out of the turbid green water of Subic Bay.
Whenever I dive on World War 2 wrecks in the Pacific, I always think of those who lost their lives in the violence, fury and panic of a sinking, whether by bombs and air assault, ship-to-ship gunfire, mines or torpedoes.
In Subic Bay on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, my favourite but most sobering wreck dive is the USS New York. The ship wasn’t sunk by enemy action, but scuttled in 1941 to prevent her falling into the hands of the Japanese after they’d invaded the Philippines.
Not a single person died in the sinking of the New York, yet I can never dive on it without thinking of the fate of more recent victims claimed by the ship.
Diving the New York is often difficult, given the dense green algae suspended in the water around the wreck, as you can see from my photos accompanying this article.
Sometimes the water is so murky that visibility can be down to a couple of feet, even outside the wreck.
Floating in the luminous green water can often be a psychedelically disorienting experience. It gets worse if you find yourself separated from your dive buddies and guide, which frequently happens to me, especially as I dawdle on the wreck to take photographs. We have put in place some very rigid procedures to follow in the event we get separated underwater on this dive.
Because my interest is in photographing sea life usually on the outside of the wreck, I rarely penetrate it, although even the limited penetration diving I have done on the New York can be a challenge.
In 2011 a very experienced Dive Master and Subic Bay dive guide, Steve Brittain, who I knew well from the dive shop I always use, took two Hong Kong divers into the wreck of the USS New York.
Only one of the three, a Hong Kong diver, made it back to the surface again.
What happened down there that day nobody will ever really know. Whether the dive guide and the other diver went back into the wreck believing the surviving diver was still inside, because they couldn’t see him in the murky water, then the tourist panicked inside the wreck and Steve searched for or stayed with him until the end, we will never know.
Their bodies would not be recovered until 48 hours later, and they were found deep inside the bowels of the ship.
I can’t imagine a more terrifying death than being stuck inside a pitch dark wreck, disoriented and panicking as your air runs out, engulfed in thick clouds of silt kicked up in a desperate attempt to get free and clear, certain in the knowledge that you are about to die.
This time, as I dived the wreck, it also saddened me to think of the terrible deaths of the hundreds of schoolchildren drowned in the recent South Korean ferry disaster.
These tragedies should never happen, but unfortunately they do.
The link below is to a short video of a dive through the engine room of the USS New York, but do yourselves a favour – before watching it, turn off the sound on your computer. Whoever dubbed in the music must have been deaf, drunk, dense or all three, to put that crap over such a visually interesting video.
High spots to watch are when the cameraman has to negotiate a narrow, obstacle-impaired passageway ( 1.38) then descends past a ladder down to a new, deeper level of the ship (@ 1.51).
Later, you think the diver is swimming horizontally (@ 3.19) then you realize because the air bubbles are floating upwards that he is in fact ascending.
Finally, (@6.40) he arrives at a memorial marker to Steve Brittain whose body was found at that location in the wreck.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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