Navy de-fuels P-8A Poseidon that overshot Hawaii runway

by Tommy Grant

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — The Navy said Monday that it has removed nearly all of the fuel from a P-8A Poseidon 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 of fuel on board the Poseidon.

“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 Nov. 20 in shallow water just offshore of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay. The base is about 10 miles 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.

There may have been some minor damage to the coral but there didn’t appear to be “massive chunks missing,” Anderson said. Still, the focus currently is on stabilizing the plane and developing a plan to move it, he said.

State environmental officials expect to conduct a damage assessment once the plane is removed.

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.

The Navy hasn’t had indications or reports that any fuel leaked from the plane, Lenox said. The Navy also tested the removed fuel and found that no water had seeped into it, which indicated the plane’s fuel system was still intact.

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.

On Thursday, sailors retrieved the data recorder and conducted a hydrographic survey to assess the plane’s structural integrity.

The Navy has come under intense scrutiny in Hawaii for its environmental stewardship and transparency after jet fuel leaked from a World War II-era fuel storage facility into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water in 2021. Some 6,000 Navy personnel, their dependents and civilians complained of physical ailments after the spill. After mounting pressure, the Navy agreed to drain the tanks, an operation that is currently underway.

Lenox said he is aware of the distrust in the community toward the Navy and is striving to be transparent. He said the state of Hawaii’s on-scene commander observed the defueling of the plane and requested that the Navy install a third temporary protective barrier around the plane. The Navy complied.

The Navy uses Poseidons to search for submarines and to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance. Manufactured by Boeing, the plane is a military version of the 737 passenger jet.

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

The Navy has flown out another P-8A from Washington state to carry out patrol duties in place of the incapacitated jet. It is flying out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, on the other side of Oahu.

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