The pared-down aircraft will join fish on the bottom of the
gulf as part of Military Park, the second phase of the
Veterans Reef project.
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
P2V-3 BuNo 122944
A P2V Neptune, donated by the owners of the Florida
Military Aviation Museum, will be sunk this weekend to become
the first piece of a new artificial reef off Hurricane
By Jane Meinhardt
DUNEDIN -- Fish that rocket through the depths of the Gulf of
Mexico off Dunedin might pause when they see this stranger in
If all goes as planned, kingfish, amberjack and other species
will hang around the fuselage of a sleek World War II Navy
bomber on the gulf bottom, a fitting final site for a long-range
aircraft designed to hunt submarines.
Minus its wings, engines and part of its tail, the Lockheed P2V
Neptune will be the first piece of a new artificial reef named
Military Park about 12 miles west of Hurricane Pass.
"This reef has been three years in the making," said
Jim Pochurek, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and
chairman of Hurricane Pass Anglers Club. "It will not just
be a place for fishing and diving, but someplace where
veterans' families can go and put ashes or have memorial
Military Park is the second phase of the Veterans Reef project.
The reef was completed in September, and the military artifacts
will be located just to its north.
Working with Pinellas County, Pochurek plans to go to the
military and other sources to find obsolete equipment such as
tanks, vessels and artillery pieces to create Military Park.
The gray, rusting Navy bomber was donated to the county by Phil
and Bud Brouchard, owners of the Florida Military Aviation
Museum. The museum is moving to Wauchula from a site next to the
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
The aircraft is gutted, with anything environmentally hazardous
removed. But gun barrels still poke out the nose. The belly of
the plane has a bulge where radar was located. The propeller
blades almost touch the ground.
If all goes as scheduled this week, a crane will load the
vintage bomber onto a donated barge for its last trip. The
airplane will be chained to the barge, its wheels fitted into
holes cut into the deck. A county workboat will tow the barge
out of Tampa Bay, under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and up the
coast to the reef site.
On Saturday, the Hillsborough County Bomb Squad will place and
detonate small, explosive charges on the barge. The explosions
will be designed to perforate airtight chambers, but not damage
the barge's main structure.
Serving as a permanent underwater platform, the 150-foot-long
barge with its historic load is expected to sink upright to the
bottom, 43 feet below.
Pochurek, of Palm Harbor, got the idea for Military Park during
his campaign to create Veterans Reef. Many of the thousands of
petition signatures he gathered in support of the project were
those of veterans.
"I just thought it would be a good idea because we have so
many veterans here," he said. "It's going to be a
special place for them and their families."
Dr. Heyward Mathews, a marine biologist and an artificial reef
advisor for the county, is helping oversee the project. He said
the bomber's wings had to be removed to get the barge
through bridges on its way to the reef site.
The wings provide lift, so they will not be reattached to the
fuselage. Mathews said the aircraft would tear itself to pieces
from the torque of the wings underwater. The wings and other
removed parts eventually will be placed on the gulf bottom near
He expects the aircraft to be as successful at attracting and
holding fish as adjacent Veterans Reef, which is home now to
gray snapper, small grouper and a jewfish.
"There was fish on Veterans Reef within weeks,"
Mathews said. "It's already covered with algae, and the
whole reef population builds up from that. As time goes on,
there'll be barnacles channeling plankton, then some coral
and then sponges."
Veterans Reef cost $270,000, which came from the county's
Boating Improvement Fund, and is the first in the county
designed with five types of structure for a study of what
attracts fish, he said.
The reef is composed of chunks of limestone; three steel barges
with large holes; two trolling alleys built of 100 hollow
pyramids 6 feet tall; large concrete pipes; and a pile of
tetrahedrons. Different buoys will be placed on the structures
to let anglers know what's on the bottom.
"We're going to be counting fish to determine the
attraction of each type of structure," Mathews said.
"We'll find out which gives us the highest angler
attraction for future reefs and gives us information to work out
a management plan."