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Senior Member Guide


Salvage Considerations


          This section discusses salvage, the retrieval of submerged wreckage. It lists elements of information others need to lend support to a salvage request, and the contributions a Board should make if salvage is approved. The focus is on how to obtain it.

        Search refers to finding the wreckage. There must be a successful search before there can be salvage. Wind, current, bottom conditions, impact angle, velocity, or aircraft fragmentation can complicate a search.

         Location, accessibility and water depth determine what will be required for salvage and who can do it. Most operations require task-organization.

Why Salvage Wreckage?

         The above discussion presumes salvage has merit and is approved. There are instances where, despite the absence of wreckage, enough is known from other evidence to form a high-confidence conclusion on cause(s) and to forego salvage. Examples of such evidence are crew/eyewitness statements, radar data, taped communications, deployed flight incident recorder, facility conditions (defective catapult, NAVAID interruption during approach, fuel sample from delivery point) and documentary evidence (personnel, aircraft).

         Search and salvage are not cheap and are not without risk to personnel and equipment. Whether salvops are undertaken starts with the AMB. A perfunctory request, without a persuasive case that the aircraft (or selected portion) is essential to discover cause, could be denied. The Board must sift all available evidence and decide whether it has sufficient to explain the mishap or needs more. Finally, will the wreckage likely have answers to the questions the Board has not resolved? If yes, continue.


         The Senior Member's channel for salvage assistance is uphill to the aircraft controlling custodian (for Marines: type commander)---the same appointing authority for his current task. The request, justification and amplifying information may be transmitted in an amended mishap data report. Paragraph 7 of the MDR is the vehicle for requesting assistance.

         The following four questions are the exclusive basis for justifying salvage as stated in ALNAV 020/98 (SECNAV 161750Z MAR 98: DON Salvage Policy):

*is wreckage necessary to determine cause?
*is wreckage a hazard to navigation?
*is an item of national security interest at risk?
*is there an environmental concern?

         Reasonable effort will be made to recover crew/passenger remains incidental to salvage, but the basis for salvage is not recovery of remains. Factors considered by others before mounting a salvage operation follow. Since an AMB opens the discussion by its request and is closest to sources of the information, be prepared to address these:

*wreckage position (pinger, sightings, floating debris)
*site conditions/accessibility (depth, bottom topography)
*aircraft’s entry aspect (incident speed/angle, breakup Y/N)
*water temperature/date of immersion (bears on corrosion)
*equipment/ordnance requiring special handling
*remains presumed to be in aircraft

         Since aviation units lack the equipment or personnel trained to accomplish water recovery, the AMB will be asking for assistance outside the familiar realm. The AMB must vouch the merit of a salvage. Others responding to the request will attempt to determine: difficulty, likelihood of success, assets available/required, expense, funding sources.

         The controlling custodian weighs merit and expense, but probably lacks recovery assets. If he concurs, he will forward the request to the fleet commander.

         The fleet commander consults his appropriate type commander (surface) with expertise to determine whether the mission can be done, how, with what difficulty, and whether organic assets are available. When fleet assets are insufficient, but the salvage is supported, the fleet commander may forward the request to CNO.

         CNO can task NAVSEASYSCOM (00C/Supervisor of Salvage and Diving). SUPSALV has assets which it can deploy on Navy or merchant vessels, can contract commercial salvors, and will oversee the completion of any salvage in which it has involvement (NAVSEA assets or contracted assets).

Salvage Approved

         Your request is approved. Do not presume the wreckage will be delivered to your hangar door. Count on participating in the salvage.

         What had been discussion of the hypothetical now becomes planning for an operation. The message which notifies all of approval is also a tasker to the command(s) which will take it for action. You will have collected a list of names, numbers, PLADs and office codes in the course of requesting and rationalizing the salvop. All the preceding are your new pen-pals. Some will become shipmates. Keep them informed. Coordination is essential to preparing for salvage and the ultimate offload and shipment of recovered wreckage.

         Planning and operations require knowledge the Board is best suited to provide, directly or by consultation among aviation resources (NADEP systems/structural engineers, airframe/component manufacturers). The safety and maintenance members can handle issues usually raised. One or both should sail on the operation and bring appropriate reference materials (manuals, pictures, diagrams, parts lists). Details to resolve are:

• recovery vessel port location
• arrival of NAVSEA fly-away package (drone) at pierside
• time to fit package to recovery vessel; trials, if any
• probable sailing date

• berthing slots available to AMB, engineers, tech reps
• message release authority for AMB member aboard
• alternate communications (E-mail, INMARSAT phone)
• provision to store/evacuate remains without breaking moor over wreckage
• decontamination/wet storage for components with nonvolatile memory
• ship’s crane capacity if handling intact, heavy aircraft
• drawings to show lifting points, equipment location
• offload location for recovered wreckage
• critical parts’ description (use nomenclature on the component’s label)

        On the last item above, think about it. If the aircraft has fragmented, a diver will see many, loose ‘black boxes.’ A rudder actuator might look like a gear actuator. A TACAN box might not be marked ‘TACAN;’ its label might be ABC-1234. Be prepared to add color, dimension or other descriptors to help divers working on the bottom to discriminate trash from treasure, plot the wreckage and fetch the prize you want.

         If divers are to use aviation-peculiar parts (lift fittings or straps) or tools (specialty fasteners, torque busters), make them available in time to hold school on their proper installation or use---before sailing. If the port has an airfield nearby, divers will benefit from a brief familiarization with a static aircraft---you can show them what parts of high interest look like, where they are located, hazards to avoid, etc.

         The Board ashore or its representative afloat will be asked again and again how much of the aircraft is needed for the investigation. Until there has been a significant development, the answer is the same as originally requested and approved: all of it. In most cases, the reason for undertaking salvage is the need for as much wreckage (evidence) as can be found.

          In exceptional circumstances, investigators might have clues which allow a focus on select components (an engine, a transmission, a fire location). When that is possible, the Board should build a prioritized list of items it wants and another of items it considers little use for investigation. This is high-stakes poker. If hypothesis A does not pan out when the A-list is examined, it might be hard to develop an alternate hypothesis with parts on the ocean floor. Return engagements are rare. Be wary of yielding the salvage opportunity.


         The vessel arrives and puts divers or drone in the water to relocate and survey the wreckage. Having a notion of wreckage distribution will help locate parts which have not yet been found, but which belong in proximity to others whose position is known. Plot (in pencil) the topography and wreckage seen through an underwater camera; refine it as dives continue. At intervals, have the diver or drone operator pan all around, stopping in cardinal directions to show wreckage and bottom contour. The plot might be crude: direction-and-distance are vaguely appreciated through a remote camera. Without a camera, try to do the same by debriefing divers one by one.

          Pickup proceeds slowly, at a rate which might exceed the time/money allotted. Inventory parts recovered to know what high-value pieces you have, or have not, recovered.

          AMB, NAVSAFECEN, and NAVSEA reps should join the on-scene commander in drafting daily SitReps. The same group should make consecutive assessments of the likelihood of completing salvage when constrained by funding or future commitment of assets. If it appears the operation will exhaust funding or overrun the assets’ time, AMB and NAVSAFECEN representatives should inform their commands, who may apply to a controlling custodian for additional funds or to the appropriate commander for further use of an asset. The salvop will otherwise close with wreckage on the bottom. Before ending an operation, assess whether you have what you need insofar as desired aircraft components.

          No later than breaking moor to sail back to port, make plans to receive the wreckage at pierside and pass those plans to a coordinator ashore. The ship’s captain knows he can crane the wreck off his deck, onto the pier. His problem will have ended; yours enters a new phase.

          Got boxes? Got trucks and forklift? Got hangar space, tools, work details? If the offload port is remote, arrange to travel to it or to bring the wreckage to your location. If NADEP or factory engineers did not accompany the salvage, but are wanted at your layout for component examination, notify them of the place and time you will commence activity ashore.

          Beyond layout and external examinations, consider what components might be candidates for engineering investigation. Consider how they will be removed from the wreckage (people and tools), preserved, packaged and freighted to cognizant engineering facilities.


          The long name is underwater acoustic locator beacon. Pingers are off-the-shelf items used by civil aviation to mark flight data recorders. In the 1980s, pingers appeared in Navy tactical aircraft to mark submerged wreckage. An enduring truth had been that finding wreckage could take longer than hoisting it.

          The current installation in military aircraft is the Dukane model DK100, which activates on water immersion. The DK100 uses a lithium-based battery with 6-year shelf life. Battery life after initiation is ~30 days. A pinger emits a 37.5 kHz signal. The signal strength is low, and range might be as short as one mile. Not all ships are equipped to receive the signal, but towed equipment is available and easily used. When considering search, exploiting the 30 days from water immersion is crucial. Search difficulty increases (and salvage prospect diminishes) without the beacon.

Contact Info: 757-444-3520 Ext: 7813 | POC:
Last Reviewed February 26, 2013