Should Wrecks Be Recovered?
Whenever I hear about efforts to recover the wreck of an airplane, it always reminds me of the Titanic. In the years since the Titanic was found, it's been visited numerous times, and salvagers have taken away parts of the wreckage, much to the dismay of ocean explorer Bob Ballard, who first located it. The ship should be left in peace, Ballard argues, and if that means it will eventually decay and be lost, that's okay. Others argue that if anything can be recovered from the seabed and preserved, that's the right thing to do.
The latest aviation wreck to be targeted for recovery is a TBD Devastator, off the coast of San Diego. The National Museum of Naval Aviation wants it for their collection, and they're trying to raise $300,000 just to get the wreck to shore, and it will surely cost hundreds of thousands more to restore it for static display. Underwater video of the wreck, shot by a remotely operated camera, shows fish making themselves at home in the cockpit, and a fuselage covered in barnacles. The Devastator was lost in a training accident and the pilot was rescued, so it's not a gravesite, in the way the Titanic is. Still, the old wreck looks at peace in its resting place at the bottom of the sea, and it seems a shame to disturb it.
I can understand the motivations of the preservationists who see the airplane as a connection to the military flyers of the past, and its restoration as a way to honor them. But if the goal is to remember the airplane, and those who flew it, is recovering this wreck the best way to do that? Why not leave it where it is, explore it in detail with video, maybe install a remote camera so it can be viewed from the museum? Or is the experience of having the actual airplane in a museum, where people can touch it and examine it in detail, crucial to preserving its history? I can see both sides, but if was up to me, I'd leave the wrecks alone and invest in creative storytelling and video to bring the past to life.