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USS Indianapolis Found After 72 Years

By Robby Myers | Updated On August 30, 2017
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USS Indianapolis Found After 72 Years

WWII Shipwreck of the USS Indianapolis Found

Image shot from an ROV of the remains of the USS Indianapolis.

Courtesy Paul G. Allen

After 72 years, wreckage of the USS Indianapolis has been found. On August 18, 2017, the crew of the R/V Petrel reported in a press release that they had found wreckage of the ship almost 3½ miles below the surface of the Philippine Sea, between Guam and Palau. The discoverers, led by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, used historical records, undersea topographical data and state-of-the-art autonomous and remote-operated underwater vehicles.

The USS Indianapolis was pivotal in ending World War II. It was tasked with a secret, high-speed run from California to the Pacific island of Tinian to deliver the components of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

After successfully completing its mission the ship was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-58 on July 30, 1945, while enroute to Leyte. The Navy History and Heritage Command website states that the ship sank in 12 minutes and that there was not enough time to send a distress call or retrieve lifeboats and lifejackets.

Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines aboard, only about 800 survived the initial sinking. As they drifted aimlessly in the open ocean, more would perish, enduring drowning from exhaustion, death from exposure and thirst, and harrowing shark attacks.

The loss of the ship went unnoticed until a passing aircraft spotted a few survivors several days later. By the time help had arrived, only 316 men were still alive. With a death-toll of 880, the Indianapolis’ demise is considered one of the greatest maritime disasters in U.S. Navy history.

While others have searched for the Indianapolis before, Allen’s team had the benefit of a newly uncovered clue about the ship’s last known location. In July 2016, Dr. Richard Hulver, a historian of the Naval History and Heritage Command, confirmed that ST-779, a tank landing ship, had passed the Indianapolis 11 hours before it sank. By adding this information to previously known data about the Indianapolis’ final route, researchers identified a new search area west of the wreck’s original presumed position and were able to narrow the search area from nearly 3,000 square miles of open ocean to just 600.

Images of the wreck captured by Allen’s ROV show hull markings matching those of the ill-fated Indianapolis, the ship’s main guns, anti-aircraft gun and torpedo damage on the forward starboard section.

Research is still ongoing; the 16-person team will continue surveying the site as weather allows. The exact location of the Indianapolis is confidential because the ship is still property of the U.S. Navy, and a war grave. Allen and his team have been collaborating with the Navy throughout the search and are working on plans to honor the 22 members of the Indianapolis crew who are still alive, along with the families of all those who served aboard the ship.