On February 16, 1944 a PBM-3D ‘Mariner’ was returning to Ebeye after a routine search patrol that had lasted 11 hours. The plane belonged to Patrol Squadron 202 (VP-202). The plane was making its landing at Ebeye just after 11pm.
The pilot made two approaches to the area and was advised by the Duty Officer on the bridge of the seaplane tender USS Casco (AVP–12) to make another approach due to bad position. The only available seadrome lights consisted of a wind line of two red buoys which could be easily confused with the red truck lights on the numerous ships in the harbor. From the navigator’s statement, neither pilot could see the lights in the wind line.
On the third attempt the pilot made a normal approach, made contact with the water and bounced two or three times. On the fourth contact with the water the plane struck nose first, broke apart and burst into flames. Of the eleven personnel on board, six survived. The other five were killed, including one of the pilots, LT Wilburne Ennis Piercy, who was listed as missing in action.
In 2007 team member Bill Remick did a side-scan sonar sweep of the area where the plane was reported to have crashed. Based off the sonar imaging obtained that year, Bill and a group of former Kwajalein residents found the tail section of the plane in August 2009, and the rest of the wreckage was found after that. The GPS coordinates of the debris field remain a strictly guarded secret, and will remain so until after DPAA sends in a specially-trained dive team to recover any remains of the pilot.