A federal oceanic agency has discovered the sunken wreckage of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Independence off the Northern California coast, saying the ship is remarkably well-preserved, likely with a plane still in one of its hanger bays.
The Independence, which operated in the central and western Pacific Ocean from November 1943 through August 1945, later survived the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests before it was scuttled in January of 1951.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found the intact hull of the carrier during a two-year mission to map an estimated 300 shipwrecks in the waters off San Francisco, many of them in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
“After 64 years on the sea floor, Independence sits on the bottom as if ready to launch its planes,” James Delgado, NOAA’s chief scientist on the Independence mission and director of the agency’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries said in a statement on its website.
“This ship fought a long, hard war in the Pacific and after the war was subjected to two atomic blasts that ripped through the ship,” Delgado said. “It is a reminder of the industrial might and skill of the ‘greatest generation’ that sent not only this ship, but their loved ones to war.”
The carrier was found in 2,600 feet (790 meters) of water by a robot submarine called Echo Ranger provided to NOAA by Boeing, making it the deepest known shipwreck in the sanctuary.
According to NOAA, images taken by Echo Ranger show that the Independence was nearly intact, resting upright and listing slightly to starboard with gaping holes in its flight deck. The agency said the pictures also reveal what appears to be a plane in the carrier’s hanger deck.
Following its service in the war the Independence was one of 90 vessels used as a so-called target fleet for the bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
It returned to the United States damaged by shock waves, heat and radiation and was used for Navy decontamination studies before being scuttled in 1951. Delgado said there were currently no plans to enter the sunken ship.
The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary encompasses nearly 3,300 square miles of ocean and coastal waters.
SOURCE: Reuters, Dan Whitcomb