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The US Navy is working to preserve the operational capability of a P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft that overshot the runway at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on 20 November 2023 and ended up in Kaneohe Bay off the eastern coast of Oahu.

The P-8A, which has the tail number 561 and is assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 ‘Skinny Dragons’ based out of Whidbey Island in Washington state, was on a detachment in support of maritime homeland defence at the time of the accident. The nine crewmembers on board (three pilots and six others) all safely evacuated the aircraft with no injuries reported.

Colonel Jeremy Beaven, the Commanding Officer at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, told a local media press conference on 27 November that the aircraft’s recovery operation “prioritises the safety of personnel and the environment here in Kaneohe Bay”. He added that a containment boom to prevent the spread of any fuel or other pollutants was in place within 30 minutes of the crash, with a second and third boom subsequently added, and that the aircraft has been anchored to prevent any further damage to it or the surrounding environment.

Rear Admiral Kevin Lenox, Commander of the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group Three, stated at the same press briefing that the P-8 is sitting mostly on its landing gear amid a mixture of coral and sand, with its left engine resting on coral, and is retaining some of its buoyancy.

While re-emphasising that the recovery operation’s priorities are the safety of personnel and the environment, he added, “The P-8 is an essential part of our fleet and the navy’s mission, and we will do everything we can to retain the operational capabilities of this aircraft.”

Defuelling operations being conducted on the P-8A Poseidon in Kaneohe Bay on 26 November 2023 prior to the aircraft’s salvage. The aircraft was estimated to have had around 2,000 gallons of fuel on board, but its fuel system is deemed to be intact (Photo: USMC)

Noting that a P-8 “has never been defueled under water”, he said that the operation to do this, conducted on 26 November, was a success and that the aircraft’s fuel system was deemed to be intact.

The aircraft will now be lifted out of the bay and onto the runway it exited, either by floating the aircraft and getting it within range of a shore-based crane or by using rolling cylinders to move it up onto the runway.

Storage of the aircraft once it has been removed from the water will prioritise facilitating the Aviation Mishap Board and then aircraft salvage and repair.

Operations to cover the P-8’s mission are continuing out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Oahu.

If aircraft 561 were to be declared unrepairable, it would become the first example of its type to be lost.