RADIOACTIVE WWII aircraft carrier FOUND OFF CALIFORNIA

USS Independence may still have aircraft in its hangars

USS independence then and now
The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says it has found the final resting place of the USS Independence, a World War Two aircraft carrier.

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California's Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

The NOAA's James Delgado, chief scientist on the Independence mission and maritime heritage director for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, says Independence “sits on the bottom as if ready to launch its planes”. Other NOAA boffins say the carrier is “upright, slightly listing to starboard, with much of its flight deck intact, and with gaping holes leading to the hangar decks” but is considered “amazingly intact” as, per the illustration above, it's still possible to see what look like aircraft.

The images were captured using a Boeing “Echo Ranger” underwater drone, which used sonar and cunning 3D-imaging crunchers to create the image at the top of this story. ®

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