Unique 3D scan shows detailed outline of sunken Tulsamerican bomber from 1944

Photogrammetry technique required many dives and more than 8,000 photos to reveal the wartime wreckage in fascinating detail

Peterjon Cresswell
Editor, Time Out Croatia
Wreck of the Tulsamerican bomber
Ewelina Heil/

An expert team of photogrammetry documenters has just created a detailed 3D scan of the Tulsamerican B-24 Liberator bomber that crashed off the island of Vis in December 1944.

Digital heritage specialist Mariusz Milka and underwater photographer Ewelina Heil, part of the team behind SEAmagination tracing Croatia’s cultural legacy underwater and on land, have been responsible for photogrammetry reproductions of historic artefacts in the clear waters of the Adriatic, including Roman shipwrecks and Ancient Greek pottery.

Now they have turned their attention to the last B-24 bomber to be built in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for World War II. The plane was shot down off the coast of Croatia with the loss of three crew members. Seven were rescued and survived, their story the subject of a documentary by NOVA TV, Last B-24, in 2018.

Tulsamerican wreck operation
Ivo Cagalj/PIXSELL

The year before, the then American Ambassador and Croatia’s Minister of Defence paid a visit to an operation to find the remains of the missing airmen.

The wreck had been found in 2009 on the seabed some 40-50 metres below the surface. It is now is under the protection of the Croatian government. Diving is permitted only through authorised centres.

In a project backed by SEAmagination and the Submerged Foundation, Mariusz Milka and Ewelina Heil used a technique known as photogrammetry, taking a multitude of photographs from various angles to create a detailed and accurate 3D representation of the fated plane.

Over the course of numerous dives, the pair meticulously captured more than 8,000 photographs of every intricate detail of the aircraft. Each dive required careful planning and execution to ensure they covered all necessary angles and lighting conditions.

The Tulsamerican was the final aircraft of its type produced at the Douglas Aircraft Plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, funded by employees, their families and the local community through war bonds. On December 17, 1944, it embarked on a mission targeting German oil refineries around Blechhammer and Odertal, but sustained severe damage from anti-aircraft fire, leading to engine failure.

Despite the crew’s valiant efforts to reach safety, the aircraft crashed into the Adriatic just minutes away from landing on Vis. The plane sank rapidly, but swift rescue operations by Allied forces on the island resulted in the recovery of several crew members.

Tulsamerican wreck operation
Mariusz Milka/

The wreck is broken into several parts, with the larger section containing the wings, engine and cockpit resting at around 40 metres, while the tail section lies deeper at 52 metres.

Once they had the photographs, the team spent several weeks using specialised software Agisoft Metashape to process large sets of images into a coherent and photorealistic whole.

The result is a highly detailed 3D model that captures the essence and intricacies of the wreckage. Now, this model can be viewed and explored by anyone online.

They also have plans to make the most detailed version available to museums, educational institutions and other organisations, offering them an invaluable resource for historical research, preservation efforts and educational purposes.

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