Malta, a diminutive island nation in the very southern part of the Mediterranean, is further south than North Africa’s coast. The nation is made up of more than a dozen rocky islands, but only the largest three, Malta, Gozo and Comino, are inhabited. And it’s a magnet for scuba divers near and far. Malta boasts some of Europe’s best diving, particularly for those who like wrecks. Malta’s history dates from the Crusades, and it’s long been a key destination when it comes to military expeditions and trade with the Middle East. The island of Malta itself has seen a vast volume of ship traffic since the days when the Knights of St. John took up refuge here. And as an important strategic point for naval operations in the Mediterranean, it was the site of intense fighting in both World Wars I and II.
With that kind of history, it’s no surprise that the waters around Malta are littered with wrecks. When you factor in that these waters are deep, yet dive-able, warm most of the year, and offer quite good visibility, the allure becomes apparent.
And now Malta has another draw for traveling scuba divers: an additional wreck, and a rare one at that. While many divers have visited shipwrecks, there’s something special about diving on an airplane, and that’s just what has been found just off Malta’s east coast. The plane is a Lockheed P-2 Neptune (known as the P2V in the U.S. Navy), a U.S.-built patrol aircraft and submarine hunter. This one was damaged and ultimately went down during a routine landing at what was then called Luqa Airport (now Malta International), a few miles from the site where it was found. It was stripped of all salvageable items and supposedly even featured in a 1958 film, but its location was eventually forgotten and the plane was lost.
While it may seem odd that a wreck can be lost this way, when it has already been found once, it’s important to remember that finding specific locations underwater can be extremely tricky without GPS or sonar, none of which were available to the general public until quite recently. After all, the Thistlegorm was lost again for years after it was found in the 1950s.
The P-2 sits in about 100 feet (30 m) of water, making it a fairly easy dive for advanced divers, and it’s not Malta’s only aircraft wreck. A Bristol Blenheim bomber from World War II sits just outside recreational range at 147 feet (45 m), but remains a highly popular dive among locals and visiting divers alike.