By 2:30 am, the situation on the Macaw was desperate. The air in the pilothouse was foul from the steady depletion of oxygen. According to witnesses on Midway, some men were desperate enough to climb up to Macaw’s Crow’s Nest. Search and Rescue parties were being organized on Eastern Island, but had to wait for daylight.
Water was washing into the pilothouse and breaking over the roof. The men of the Macaw were trapped and it was only a matter of time before their options ran out.
The men grabbed whatever floatation device or piece of wreck they thought would float, and threw themselves into the sea, likely praying to God that they would see morning.
By dawn’s light, the search for survivors began. Men were found washed up of reefs, clinging to buoys, even deep in the lagoon miles away. Seventeen survivors in all.
Sadly, five men, including Macaw’s CO were not found, and are presumed lost at sea.
And now, Macaw posed an even bigger hazard. Sunk in the middle of the channel, she was tall enough that her masts protruded above the water, and her superstructure lurked just below, to snag or puncture the hull of any vessel entering or leaving. She was going to have to be moved, or destroyed. It took eight months, 1,068 diving hours, and nearly a ton and a half of explosives, but eventually, most of Macaw was reduced to a twisted, flattish mass of metal deep enough beneath the surface to allow ships to safely pass over her grave. Her loss was officially announced on March 20, 1944.
Midway Island remained an active Naval base for a number of years, finally closing in 1993. Today, it is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which keeps a staff on the islands, and, since 1996, has permitted people to visit Midway, though tourism is restricted to 100 people on the islands any given day.
It is a bird sanctuary, a protected fish lagoon, and is one of the last pristine environments. The Wreck of the Macaw is one of the diving sites available for non-invasive touring. Despite the shallow depth of the Macaw (25 ft. at the bow, 55 ft at the stern) conditions at the mouth of the channel make diving her impossible for all but the very skilled most days. (The weather needs to be calm and it needs to be high tide before she can be safely visited) Her bow is the only recognizable portion.
The wreck was thoroughly (and non-invasively) explored and documented in 2003, and is protected and maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Incidentally, a water barge broke loose from its mooring and wrecked on the approximate location of Flier in 1957. It too, can only be visited occasionally during the season.
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