A Paul Allen-funded expedition has finally found the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, sunk 72 years ago by torpedoes. The ship has become the stuff of legend, for its sailors’ resilience during days in the water, suffering dehydration and facing shark attacks.
On Friday night, billionaire and philanthropist Paul Allen watched the Seattle Seahawks, a football team he owns, trounce the Minnesota Vikings 20-13.
But his attention was elsewhere — Allen was monitoring a live feed from the Philippine Sea where an expedition he funded had discovered the final resting place of the USS Indianapolis, which had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine 72 years ago after a secret mission to deliver components for “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
On a scale of one to 10 — one being bored and 10 being over the moon — how excited was Allen about the find?
“I’d say it was a 15,” said Jacqueline Fowler, a spokeswoman for Allen’s Vulcan Inc.
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The sinking of the USS Indianapolis is legendary.
The ship had a 1,200-person crew (including members of the U.S. Marine Corps) and sank in just 12 minutes, while rolling over and on fire. Around 315 crew members survived in the ocean for several days, suffering from starvation, dehydration and shark attacks — a dramatic story memorialized in a harrowing monologue from the movie “Jaws.”
Paul Taylor, a civilian spokesman for the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, said that monologue was slightly hyperbolic.
“It’s not like all those healthy people went into the water — their ship had been blown out from beneath them. They suffered mightily and began to die, and most people agree that the overwhelming number of shark attacks were on dead or dying bodies.”
People have been looking for the USS Indianapolis for years, but a recent paper by naval historian Richard Hulver guided the Vulcan team toward its location.
Taylor said Hulver “came across, of all things, a blog post for a fudge shop in Michigan.”
That post was about a descendant of a veteran who had been on a tank landing ship that spotted the USS Indianapolis just before it sank.
Taylor said the Navy takes sunken ships seriously — as a sacred gravesite for dead sailors, a repository for state secrets that may have been locked up in some safe in a captain’s quarters and as U.S. military property that may include unexploded ordnance or other public-safety hazards.
“It’s a tragedy that only 316-317 sailors survived,” he said.
“But it’s the strength of the unit that brought them through. The story of the USS Indianapolis is a testament to what it takes to survive at sea.”