November 23, 2017 (by Mark Russell) - On 16 November, with press and politicians and a brass band in attendance, a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft was sunk just off the shores of Aqaba, Jordan.
A retired RJAF C-130 which was recently sunk of the shores of Aqaba, Jordan. [Photo by Torbjorn Gylleus]
The new dive site forms part of a project spearheaded by King Abdullah II himself, a drive to promote tourism to a country which has escaped relatively unscathed in the aftermath of an overall decline in visitors to the Red Sea, of which Egypt constitutes the vast majority.
The Hercules has been sunk in a very easily accessible location, not far from the wreck of the Cedar Pride, and only a few metres from the M42 ‘Duster’ anti-aircraft vehicle, more commonly known as ‘the Tank’
With an average maximum depth of around 16m and a flat bottom, the Hercules is upright and almost level, with a length of 30m and a wingspan of around 40m. The site is prone to only the lightest of currents, and descent onto the wreck is aided by the excellent Red Sea visibility, meaning it will almost always be visible from the surface.
Aircraft wrecks always have a slightly eerie feel about them, even if – as is the case with the C130 Hercules – they were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs. Although nobody would argue that ships belong under the water anymore so than an aircraft, ships are at least sunk within their natural habitat, whereas the nose cone of an aeroplane looming above you lends an especially unnatural feel for the dive.
Hovering outside the cockpit at 12m is a particularly strange sensation – it seems so very small when you get up-close and personal, whereas back on land it would be several metres above your head. Several divers took the opportunity to straddle the nose cone which – while very strongly not recommended for preservation of the aircraft – gives some idea as to the strange warping of perspective as you start the dive peering into the cockpit windows.
Some darkly humoured soul has taken the liberty of dressing a skeleton in a flight suit and helmet and strapping it into the pilot’s seat, a comical sight rather than in any way frightening, although inexperienced divers night-diving the plane may come to disagree.
Despite the small impression of the nose cone and cockpit, the Hercules is obviously a very large aircraft. The fuselage is taller than it is wide, and although the engines and propellers have been removed from the ‘plane to sterilise it prior to sinking, the long wing-span and empty engine cowlings do lend a striking impression of the power of the aircraft in service.
It would have been nice if there had been a way to re-engineer the propellers back into position, however, it would seem they have been re-purposed and purists may bemoan their absence but the preservation of the reef without an addition of petrochemicals is clearly more important.
Swimming over the fuselage at around 10m towards the rear of the aircraft, the monstrous tail looms large over the diver. Whereas the front of the Hercules may seem disproportionately small, the tail fin rises to around 5m under the surface – the size of a small apartment building – and it's proportions are not lost on the visiting diver.
Although the wreck is mostly level, the removal of the engines and electronics from the nose gear have left the Hercules slightly tail heavy, with the nose gear raised slightly off the bottom. This might give the impression of an aircraft just about to take off, however, the effect is lost slightly underwater.
Practically speaking, it means that the tailgate, which was opened to provide an entrance to the loading bay, has been closed by the weight of the Hercules, however, penetration of the wreck is made no less straightforward as a result. The doors of the aircraft have been removed providing easy access to the cavernous interior, approximately 12m long and 3m wide, and well-lit thanks to the open doors and large array of cockpit windows.
The flight deck is also accessible, both from the interior and through the cockpit windows, allowing for plenty of photo opportunities with the skeletal captain, and the basic controls and steering columns remain in place – and will hopefully remain so, although souvenir hunters will no doubt already be planning their unnecessary retrieval.
That the C130 Hercules wreck has been made so accessible is, of course, deliberate and, as such, is not likely to attract the serious, dangerous wreck-penetrating techies, but that was never the intention. It’s a fun-for-all-the-family excursion which divers of all experience levels can enjoy, while their non-diving partners can snorkel above them. There’s plenty to see of the aircraft itself, and divers who wish to make more of the experience can visit the tank, or explore the coral and seagrass of the surrounding area which – thanks to the mild current – will no doubt aid the development of coral around the structure of the wreck itself.