US Navy removes fuel from plane that overshot Hawaii runway and is now resting on a reef and sand

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The US Navy said on Monday that it has removed nearly all of the fuel from a large plane that overshot a Hawaii runway and landed in an environmentally sensitive bay, but it doesn’t have a timetable for when it will get the aircraft out of the water. Rear Adm. Kevin Lenox said there was an estimated 2,000 gallons (7,500 litres) of fuel on board the P-8A. “The team extracted all the fuel that they could get out of those tanks. This process was completed successfully without any fuel being released into the bay,” Lenox said at a news conference. Removing the fuel will reduce the risks for the rest of the salvage operation, he said.

There were no injuries to the nine people who were on board when the plane landed on Nov. 20 in shallow water just offshore of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay. The base is about 10 miles (16 kilometres) from Honolulu. Cmdr. Mark Anderson, who is leading the Navy’s mobile diving and salvage unit working at the site, said the plane was sitting on a mixture of coral and sand. The left engine is resting on coral. The plane rises a little with the tide, so the full weight of the plane is not on the coral, he said. Kaneohe Bay is home to coral reefs, an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks.

The Navy is studying two options for moving the aircraft, explained Lenox. The first is to float it and get it within range of a crane on the runway. Then it would be lifted onto the runway and set down on its landing gear, which is still in good condition. The second option is to float it on top of cylinders and roll it up onto the runway. Lenox said the Navy has three priorities while it does this work: safety of the salvage crew, protecting the environment and preserving the capability of the aircraft. The Navy now has three temporary floating barriers around the P-8A aircraft at its resting spot to prevent any potential fuel spill or other contaminants from polluting the ocean.

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On Thursday, sailors retrieved the data recorder and conducted a hydrographic survey to assess the plane’s structural integrity. State environmental officials expect to conduct a damage assessment once the plane is removed. In addition to the floating barriers, the Navy has placed material around the plane to help absorb any potential pollutants and provide early warning of petroleum spills. The Navy has also kept a skimmer on standby so it can remove any pollutants quickly. The Navy uses P-8A planes manufactured by Boeing to search for submarines and to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance. The plane is a military version of the 737 passenger jet.

The plane is assigned to Patrol Squadron 4 stationed at Whidbey Island in Washington state. Patrol squadrons were once based at Kaneohe Bay but now deploy to Hawaii on a rotating basis.