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"Deepest wreck dive in history" reaches U.S. Navy destroyer sunk during World War II

Sunken warship uncovered
USS Johnston uncovered after nearly 80 years 05:52

A U.S. Navy destroyer sunk during World War II and lying nearly 6,500 meters below sea level off the Philippines has been reached in the world's deepest known shipwreck dive, an American exploration team said.

A crewed submersible filmed, photographed and surveyed the wreckage of the USS Johnston off Samar Island during two eight-hour dives completed late last month, Texas-based undersea technology company Caladan Oceanic said.

Caladan founder Victor Vescovo, who piloted the submersible, tweeted dramatic video of the shipwreck on Sunday.

The 115-meter-long ship was sunk on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf as U.S. forces fought to liberate the Philippines -- then a U.S. colony -- from Japanese occupation.

Its location in the Philippine Sea was discovered in 2019 by another expedition group, but most of the wreckage was beyond the reach of their remotely-operated vehicle.

"Just completed the deepest wreck dive in history, to find the main wreckage of the destroyer USS Johnston," Vescovo tweeted. "We located the front 2/3 of the ship, upright and intact, at a depth of 6456 meters. Three of us across two dives surveyed the vessel and gave respects to her brave crew."

Only 141 of the ship's 327 crew survived, according to U.S. Navy records. Of the 186 who died, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on rafts from injuries and 92 crewmembers, including Captain Ernest Evans, were alive in the water after the ship sank, but were never heard from again.  

"The skipper was a fighting man from the soles of his broad feet to the ends of his straight black hair," said Ensign Robert C. Hagen, the ship's gunnery officer, according to the Navy.

The Caladan Oceanic-backed expedition found the bow, bridge and mid-section intact with the hull number "557" still visible.

Two full five-inch gun turrets, twin torpedo racks and multiple gun mounts remain in place, it said.

Team navigator and historian Parks Stephenson said the wreck bore the damage inflicted during the intense surface battle 76 years ago.

"It took fire from the largest warship ever constructed -- the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato, and ferociously fought back," said Stephenson.

Sonar data, imagery and field notes collected during the dives would be turned over to the U.S. Navy, Vescovo said.

Last year, the USS Nevada, an iconic U.S. battleship that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, was found in the Pacific Ocean.

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