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A diver enjoys the cockpit of the first sunken Dakota

Phuket's Sky Coral Reef: A Photo Celebration

Sunday, November 30, 2008
PHUKET now has the largest artificial coral reef in the world, officials say, after the successful sinking of 10 obsolete aircraft.

The first group of 23 international divers sampled the Sky Dive Reef on the day it went down, paying 3500 baht a head to be pioneers.

One final Dakota, Dakota D1, was lowered to the bottom of the ocean in Bang Tao Bay on Saturday amid ceremony and celebration.

Many of Phuket's leading citizens, including Governor Preecha Ruangjan, watched from the shore and boats bobbing nearby as the last piece in the jigsaw fell into place.

On shore, Royal Thai Air Force pilots reminisced about the magnificent flying days of the four Dakotas and six helicopters that make up the new reef, 25 metres down.

The project is a success story at long last, despite debates about funding and a long delay from March caused by the arrival of the wet-season monsoon.

Everything from then on went according to plan.

Bang Tao was chosen for the reef because of its easy accessibility, the distance from natural reefs, and benefits to the local community.

The Sky Dive Reef, also called the Coral Reef Squadron, will offer alternative diving and thus help to protect the natural reefs at Phi Phi, Koh Racha and elsewhere.

The people responsible for the project, the For Sea Foundation, established that the aircraft, made of aluminium, will not rust easily and will not be toxic to the environment.

The aircraft have a long history. The four Dakota C47s and the six S58T helicopters were given to the Royal Thai Air Force by the US and participated in two wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Approval was needed from the US to use the aircraft as part of a coral reef. It took a year for the US to say Yes.

The Thai Diving Association helped to find sponsorship. Cheng Thalay Orbortor helped with four million baht towards the budget for transporting the aircraft to Phuket.

Total cost of the prject: about eight million baht.

Group Captain Sukasom Metthasat, one of several pilots at the ceremony, told Phuketwan that he had fond memories of flying Dakotas.

''It is a classic aircraft,'' he said. ''Dakotas have been in use since World War II.

''They were useful for transport and now they have a new future in a different place.

''Since 1982, the planes have been used, after modifications, to carry out rainmaking, one of the projects led by HM King Bhumipol.''

The Dakotas were also the first aircraft used for Royal international visits by the King and the Queen and the Royal family.

Group Captain Sukasom said he had spent 3000 hours flying Dakotas since 1983. The planes were capable of carrying up to 30 passengers.

Another nine Dakotas are still flying in Thailand, he said. He still flies in the rainmaking planes, but they are no longer Dakotas.

It may take divers a little time to catch up with Group Captain Sukasom's 3000 hours, but many will have hours of fun around the planes underwater.

The chairman of the For Sea Foundation, Sarun Kittiwunnakul, said it took just about an hour after the first Dakota went down for a school of fish to show an interest in the ''reef.''

He expects the number of tourists diving on the articifical reef to grow to 300 a day almost immediately.

The Minister for Tourism and Sport, Weerasak Kossurat, was not able to attend because of the blockade of Bangkok's main airports.

More Photos, Reading

Phuket's Amazing Artificial Reef: Photo Special
Photo Album To finish the job, workers jump on the tail of a Dakota being lowered to the ocean bottom. Catch the incredible photos as Phuket's artificial coral reef goes down.
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Phuket's Coral Reef Aircraft: Photo Salute
Photo Album Phuket's coral reef squadron soared with help from a crane today and will float, not fly, to their last landing off Bang Tao beach. Security guards will say goodbye, ghosts.
Phuket's Coral Reef Aircraft: Photo Salute

Phuket Aircraft Take Off For Reef Landing
Photo Album On a final dawn patrol, Phuket's artificial reef aircraft were set for takeoff. Phuketwan recorded a deep blue Photo Album for posterity. Now for one last happy landing.
Phuket Aircraft Take Off For Reef Landing

Phuket Reef Aircraft Set For Deep Journey
Photo Album A trip to the bottom of the ocean off Phuket will soon be the final landing for some aircraft with remarkable histories. Their journey to beneath the sea is just beginning.
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Phuket Sky Dive Reef Saved For Bang Tao
In a fuss about funding, Bang Tao almost loses its artificial Sky Dive Reef to Koh Racha. It was not plane sailing; Shock and disbelief at Immigration over the coming Russian invasion
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Phuket Sky Dive Reef ready To Fly Low
After months of anticipation, the artificial reef made up of a squadron of obsolete Air Force aircraft is to be kept on land until November 2008 when better weather should allow safety considerations to be taken into account
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Sky Dive Reef To Be Cheered On Road To Phuket
Phuket's new Sky Dive Reef has arrived on the island in pieces. Scores of interested onlookers watched it pass, on its way to the bottom of the sea off Bang Tao
Sky Dive Reef To Be Cheered On Road To Phuket


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