An expedition crew led by billionaire philanthropist announced Saturday they had found the missing wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, a World War II ship that helped carry parts of the atomic bomb but sank 72 years ago.
Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, said his team came across the ship's remains on Friday in the North Pacific Ocean, some 5,500 meters (roughly 18,000 feet) below the water's surface.
“To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement.
“As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances…. I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”
The Indianapolis was lost July 30, 1945, in the final stretch of the war, when it was torpedoed by Japanese forces. The ship had nearly 1,200 service members aboard when it went down.
The ship sank 12 minutes after it was struck, and while approximately 800 service members survived the Japanese attack, only around 300 survived several days in the wars before their rescue. Men succumbed to exposure, dehydration, drowning, madness, and even shark attacks — something referenced in a key scene in the movie Jaws.
The tragedy is among the worst Navy disasters ever to occur in US history.
Before the attack, the USS Indianapolis delivered parts of the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima to Tinian in a secret mission.
A US Navy statement credited Dr. Richard Hulver, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command who worked with the crew, for 2016 research that led the expedition to “a new search area to the west of the original presumed position.”
Hulver told BuzzFeed News his research included tracking down an LST, a type of transport ship for heavy equipment, that had passed the Indianapolis approximately 11 hours before it sank. Because all records sank with the ship, the LST's records provided additional guidance.
The Navy said the expedition crew still had to search through 600 square miles of “open ocean” to track down the remains.
Hulver said it was difficult to believe they had found the ship, because he had it down as a “long shot.”
“I was very hopeful that this new information would help,” Hulver said.
“[The ship has] been very misunderstood throughout history,” Hulver said. He added the sharks, while a part of the story, have been a “cloud” hanging over the legacy of the service members.
“Now we can sort of move on and just learn more from Indianapolis, and honor the whole story of the ship. It’s a very rich history,” Hulver said. “Indianapolis has become so sensationalized to the point that it does a bit of disservice to the crew.”
Indianapolis in Guam in August 1945.
AP Photo/Naval Historical Center
Hulver said he learned the news of the discovery on Saturday. “My heart’s been beating all day,” he said.
According to information provided by a spokesperson for Allen, in addition to the philanthropist and Hulver, the expedition members included Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations and expedition director for Vulcan Inc., Allen's media company; Paul Mayer, a Vulcan submersible pilot and researcher; Curt Newport, a consultant and pilot; Bob Neyland, head of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the US Navy's Naval History and Heritage Command; and Samuel J. Cox, a retired admiral who acts as director of the Naval History and Heritage Command and Curator of the Navy.
Other attempts to track down the ship have been made before, to no avail.
In his statement, Allen said the search for the rest of the USS Indianapolis would continue.
The USS Indianapolis is still US Navy property, and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy.
A Navy spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the reasons for keeping this type of location under wraps include it being a war grave, the potential of having state secrets exposed, and other potential hazards. In the case of the Indianapolis, however, few people would have access to it because of its depth.
“It’s amazing that 72 years later we’re able to see the wreckage,” Hulver said. “It’s going to be an exciting couple of months.”