From plane wreck to dive site: five sunken jets transformed into underwater worlds

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Water adventure tourism is on the rise as travellers seek out activities with the extra thrill factor.

Scuba diving accounts for a sizeable part of that market, with the global diving tourism sector estimated to reach nearly $3 billion in 2022, according to recent data from market intelligence and consulting firm Future Market Insights.

And, while there's no shortage of dive sites to explore with shipwrecks and natural reefs galore, for anyone seeking something a little bit different, there's a whole underwater world of plane wrecks to get acquainted with.

Some destinations have intentionally sunk aircraft to promote diving tourism and create coral reefs, while others are the result of plane crashes.

From a submerged Boeing 747 in Bahrain to a tiny two-seater private plane in the Bahamas that's surrounded by urban legends, here are five of the world's best.

1. Dive into a Lockheed in the Red Sea, Jordan

On Jordan’s southern tip, the seaside city of Aqaba is home to a Lockheed Martin L-1011 TriStar, which sits at the bottom of the ocean. Divers can circumnavigate the huge 400-passenger plane which is located at depths of 15 metres.

Sunk in 2019 after sitting abandoned for years at King Hussein International Airport, Aqaba, the jet is well preserved and divers can go inside via two doors behind the cockpit. Middle seats in the fuselage have been removed to allow easy access to the wreck, which is now a haven for coral, puffer fish, octopus and other marine life.

2. Explore a Boeing 747 in the Gulf of Bahrain

The largest plane to be submerged in the ocean can be found off the coast of tiny Bahrain.

Part of Dive Bahrain — an eco-friendly underwater theme park that will span some 100,000 square metres when complete — the decommissioned jumbo jet is the Amwaj Island park's star attraction.

Divers will have to sit tight before they can access the site as it's currently closed until 2023, but when it does reopen, it will also be home to several other structures including a replica of a traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house, an artificial coral reef and a submerged sculpture park.

3. Deep dive to the Flying Fortress in the Adriatic Sea, Croatia

At a depth of more than 60 metres, Croatia’s sunken Flying Fortress is known as one of the most difficult dives in the Adriatic Sea.

Located off the island of Vis on the Dalmatian Coast, the wreckage of the B-17 bomber is only accessible to technical divers and even then time on the bottom has to be limited to 15 minutes.

The jet is one of the best preserved of its type and divers can clearly see its 30-metre wingspan, 20-metre fuselage and four propeller engines. The pilot’s cabin is fully accessible and divers will find the deepest point under the tail of the fortress.

4. Swim around a Second World War-era jet in the Bahamas

Perhaps the world’s most accessible underwater wreck can be found in the Exuma Cays.

Nestled in shallow turquoise waters about a half-mile off the Staniel Cay coast, the Second World War-era, twin seat private aircraft is submerged at a depth of around three metres, making it a good starting point for a shore dive.

The story surrounding the plane’s crash is a convoluted account of poorly-lit island runways, low fuel warnings, drug smuggling and Colombian cartels in the 1980s, but the resulting underwater wreckage has become one of Exuma's most-popular tourist attractions.

And, with the surrounding Atlantic Ocean known for its marine life, you’re guaranteed to see plenty of colourful coral and fish in and around the sunken jet.

5. Plunge to the Neopolis Airbus A300 off the Aegean Coast, Turkey

One of the largest aircraft ever to be submerged as a dive site is the wide-body Airbus 300, which was sent to the seabed off Kusadasi in 2016.

The Neopolis is located some 20 metres below the surface and is a huge site to explore. With a 55-metre-long fuselage and a 45-metre wingspan, it’s entirely accessible to divers.

Before it was sent into the blue, the jet was stripped to remove any substances that might be damaging to the underwater world and marine life in the region thrives, with divers able to spot lobster, akyas, black bream swarms and sea bunnies

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