USS Cooper: Return to Ormoc Bay


The Ultimate Dive - The Ultimate Sacrifice

Experience a daring world record scuba dive to a lost, sunken wreck, at the bottom of the mysterious South Pacific. In this patriotic documentary, men travel to dangerous depths, pushing the edge – in Patriotic honor for the 191 casualties of the USS Cooper which sank on December 3, 1944 during World War II.

This patriotic documentary travels along two story arcs that traverse the past and present to reveal the mysteries and secrets of The Battle of Ormoc Bay.

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur commanded the troops and late into the night of December 2, 1944, three US destroyers – USS Allen M. Sumner, USS Moale and the USS Cooper – sailed into Ormoc Bay ready to attack. Though accomplishing their mission, the USS Cooper was torpedoed by a Japanese Destroyer shortly after midnight and sunk taking one hundred and ninety one crew members below the waters to their deaths as one hundred and sixty eight scattered survivors swam to
nearby shores, rescued by local Filipinos.

Writer/Director Daniel Foster parallels the intertwining paths of Hank Wagener, an old warrior and survivor of the USS Cooper and diver Rob Lalumiere, a young warrior, who attempts a world record scuba dive to place a memorial on the sunken ship.

Enhanced CGI Effects bring crucial design elements in USS Cooper: Return to Ormoc Bay. The night of December 3, 1944 springs to life in the documentary, replete with its inherent terror, chaos and suspense. Battle scenes feature a recreation of the USS Cooper as it dodges torpedoes, fires off salvos and careens through battle.

Production Notes


The USS Cooper has not been commemorated since it sank on Dec. 3, 1944.

Enter Rob Lalumiere, a skilled scuba diver interested not only in oceanic depths, but WWII history and the men who sacrificed their lives for freedom. After numerous excursions, Lalumiere located the USS Cooper and then, determined to honor the men he had long admired, placed a memorial plaque on the ship.

An intense 12 day production shoot documented Lalumiere's expedition in Ormoc Bay -- Leyte Island, Philippines. Unpredictable weather, dive complications and intricate underwater shoots from three angles were some of the numerous factors that the filmmakers faced.

Finding the coordinates
The USS Cooper's exact position was difficult to locate since all records and log books were destroyed with the ship.

Diver Rob Lalumiere contacted Ron Babuka whose father sailed on the USS Allen M. Sumner. Babuka plotted the movement of the ships on that fateful night using radio logs, survey maps, battle action reports and navigation tracks. Lalumiere worked from this data, which Babuka assembled into a track chart that became an accurate blueprint of the ships' movements on Dec. 3, 1944.

During several trips into Ormoc Bay, Lalumiere and Frank Doyle, captain of the Rags dive boat, eventually located the USS Cooper. The Rags was also the main dive boat used during Lalumiere's dive to the USS Cooper.

The destroyer was found to be at a depth of 633 feet (193 meters) -- deeper than the world record technical dive of 581 feet (177 meters). Extensive planning began eight months before dive day -- May 29, 2005, Memorial Day -- although Lalumiere had begun planning other aspects of the dive two years before.

Rob Lalumiere collaborated with key players to accomplish the memorial dive. The dive team had collectively achieved thousands of deep technical dives. Ron Loos, Lalumiere's mentor, and Luke MacNamara, a student of Loos, accompanied Lalumiere on the first of numerous test dives and were present at the USS Cooper dive. Technical support coordinator Jongin Lee oversaw such details as Lalumiere's helmet camera and underwater lighting devices. Overall, Lee was a needed voice of safety and caution on the dive.

Frank Doyle, owner of the main dive boat, Rags, acted as dive supervisor and project coordinator. Doyle and his team plotted out decompression stops, which allowed Lalumiere to rest during his ascent and rid his blood of harmful nitrogen bubbles.

Numerous other divers contributed to Lalumiere's success, including: Paul Nielsen, technical support diver; Ross Thompson, dive support coordinator; Brian Gilles, support coordinator; and Simon Birtles, technical support diver.

Testing the waters
Lalumiere completed four test dives before the main USS Cooper dive to allow for equipment adjustments, and to prepare his physiology for the deep dive. Test dives were also necessary to begin calculating gas mixtures during the main dive, which used five tanks. Lalumiere twice dove to the Japanese ship the Kaisha, and he also explored the Japanese destroyer the Kuwa. An unexpected discovery during the test dives was an intact Lockheed PV-1 bomber ditched on Jan. 18, 1945, because of low fuel and bad weather.

The final decision
Tensions grew tight as dive day approached. A final sonar reading of the wreck revealed that it rested at a slightly shallower depth than originally thought. Gas mixture, descent and decompression charts needed last minute revisions - forcing a one day delay in the dive.

The blessing
USS Cooper survivor Hank Wagener joined Lalumiere, Father Ramiel Costolo and the production crew for a blessing of the waters above the USS Cooper on May 27, 2005. The event took place aboard Bigfoot Entertainment's production yacht, the Sun Seeker. Wagener recited a prayer honoring his fallen comrades from that dark early morning 61-years ago. He and Father Costolo invoked protection for Rob during his challenging dive. The three men released a wreath into the water above the USS Cooper as a 21 gun salute echoed through Ormoc Bay, fired by the Philippine National Police/ Ormoc Division.

Hank's prayer continues to be remembered:
The reality that my shipmates were killed as I watched from the water was very disturbing. That the lord works in mysterious ways is so true. One wonders what is the Lord's purpose behind all of this. I know I was very fortunate to be so close to the tragedy and escape with my life. A bible passage reminds us to be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because we will not know the day or the hour of our calling. It is a great honor to be here to see Rob put that plaque on the deck of the ship. It has been a long time to honor our shipmates who gave their lives. God bless them and God bless America.

Animating the past
CGI and animation are crucial design elements in USS Cooper: Return to Ormoc Bay. Both were used to fill in story gaps and augment various memories. Bigfoot Entertainment's CGI team was charged with simulating the USS Cooper and creating movement within charts and old photographs. The night of Dec. 3, 1944, springs to life in the documentary, replete with its inherent terror, chaos and suspense.

Battle scenes feature a recreation of the USS Cooper as it dodges torpedoes, fires off salvos and careens through the moonlit night. Bigfoot animators extensively researched how the ship sailed, sounded and turned. A model of the ship was created using Maya software, and was given motion, lighting and texture to bring it to life. Other key elements in these scenes involve accurate portrayal of waves, torpedo trajectories and munitions fire. In the documentary USS Cooper: Return to Ormoc Bay, the USS Cooper sails once again.

Bigfoot animators brought subtle movement to 1940s photographs and documents donated by survivors and their families. The artfully treated photographs take on new life as cigarette smoke wafts from a cigarette, sailors' hats soar in the air and champagne bursts from a bottle during the USS Cooper dedication ceremonies.

Since the documentary involves the complicated sport of technical diving, the CGI team also animated dive charts and decompression and gas mixing schedules to convey the intricacy of the dive, as well as the danger involved.


Rob Lalumiere (Diver)
Hank Wagener (Survivor)
Richard Sementelli (Eye witness)
Veda Kelley (Widowed wife)


Director: Daniel Foster
Producers: Daniel Foster, Leica Cruz
Executive Producers: Michael Gleissner, Kacy Andrews, Matt Lubetich
Associate Producer: Jeneth Borlasa
Director of Photography: Eugene Florendo
Underwater Videographer: Jacques Tarnero, Jeremy Langley
Editors: Daniel Foster, Kristoffer Villarino
Composer: Mark Amberville


  • Genre: Documentary, History
  • Studios: Bigfoot Entertainment Inc.
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Film Rating: G
  • Status: Completed
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