Nearly 75 years ago during World War II, a blast from an underwater mine blew off the stern of destroyer USS Abner Read. Tragically, 71 people died in the blast and its aftermath. While the ship was saved, the stern was never found, and the families of the U.S. Navy sailors who lost their lives didn't know where their loved ones' final resting place lay — until now.
A team of researchers was able to use robot technology to discover the helm of the ship in the Bering Sea off the Aleutian island of Kiska.
The project was supported by NOAA, Scripps and Project Recover — a partnership that uses modern science and technology, along with archival research, to finally find the resting places of Americans missing in action from as far back as WWII.
This was the first mission to use technology like multi-beam sonar to thoroughly explore the underwater battlefield.
Once the sonar identified a promising target, the team sent down a remote-controlled vehicle to capture live video.
The remote-controlled vehicle. (Scripps Oceanography)
"There was no doubt," said expedition leader Eric Terrill, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-founder of Project Recover, said in a press release. "We could clearly see the broken stern, the gun and rudder control, all consistent with the historical documents."
Because of new technology, the sensors were able to pick up on shapes that couldn't be spotted before now.
The camera footage is eerie, the twisted wreckage covered in thick green plant life. It's hard to imagine the night nearly 75 years ago, when nearly 300 men were aboard the Abner Read, hunting for Japanese submarines. The explosion went off at around 1:50 a.m. on August 18, 1943, sending 90 men into the water. Twenty were rescued, but 70 were never found.
The ship was actually repaired after the explosion, and was back in battle after just a few months.
But the stern stayed at the bottom of the ocean, and will likely remain there for good. Wreckage sites like this are considered war graves, and are protected by the U.S. government. It may sound strange to protect a shipwreck, but in cases like these, wrecks become hallowed ground.