Marine explorers in California have begun their survey of the wreckage of a World War II-era light aircraft carrier that was deliberately sunk offshore of San Francisco Bay about 65 years ago.
After a productive tour of duty during World War II, the USS Independence was assigned to take part in atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. It was later transferred to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco to serve as a subject on decontamination studies by scientists before being scuttled near Farallon Islands in 1951.
The Independence is once again the focus of a new scientific study after being rediscovered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) during sonar mappings of the area in 2015. Researchers from the agency found that the historic warship is still "amazingly intact," despite being submerged in 2,600 feet of water for more than six decades.
NOAA has now teamed up with partners from the private industry to explore the wreckage of the Independence even further. It has commissioned the research ship E/V Nautilus and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to collect microbathymetry data and photomosaic imaging of the sunken aircraft carrier.
According to NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries, the hull and flight deck of the Independence are clearly visible in initial sonar imaging. The 65-year-old warship even appears to have one of its planes still in its hangar bay.
"When we do these missions we are obtaining hard scientific results, but also these shipwrecks speak to you in a powerful way when you encounter them," NOAA's maritime heritage director James Delgado said. "They cease to be images in books or in newsreels."
Delgado explains that they plan to use two unmanned submersibles owned by the Connecticut-based Ocean Exploration Trust during their survey of the Independence.
The vehicles will be maneuvered to come within 10 feet of the warship's hull, where they will collect valuable information on the wreckage for 16 to 18 hours. The researchers hope to produce photographs and video of the historic Independence.
Blast From The Past
Throughout its early run, the USS Independence was used to guard the central and western Pacific against the Japanese navy. It was even involved in the Battle of Gulf in 1944, where it sank some of the remaining warships of the Japanese Mobile Fleet.
Following the war, the Independence became one of the target vessels for atomic bomb tests as part of Operation Crossroads in the Pacific.
Despite being placed within one-half-mile of ground zero during the July 1 atomic explosion, the Independence did not sink. It was subjected to another explosion on July 25, after which the veteran aircraft carrier was decommissioned.
Scientists in San Francisco later examined the radioactive hull of Independence to find out more about the impact of the atomic blast. The warship was finally scuttled near the Farallon Islands in the California coast in January 1951.